By: Alex Cooke
Around 15 people showed up at the HMCS King’s Wardroom at the University of King’s College Tuesday night to attend an informal discussion about the Chronicle Herald picket lines. The Halifax newspaper has been soliciting students and freelancers to work for them while their employees are on strike.
Around 60 reporters, columnists, photographers and editors of the Herald have been on strike since Saturday after the paper told employees that they would be laying off journalists, cutting wages and reducing severance payments.
Pam Sword, a digital news editor at the Herald, and Rebecca Rose, a freelance journalist who works with the Canadian Freelance Union, led the discussion.
The union works to give more rights, such as health care plans and steadier wages, to Canadian freelance writers.
“Some freelancers are freelancers by choice, but a lot of us are forced into freelancing because the good jobs aren’t there,” said Rose.
During the discussion, Sword and Rose stressed the importance of not crossing the picket lines.
Rose says the owners of the Herald “see freelancers as cheap labour,” and that crossing the picket line “undermines the whole reason for a strike.”
“I understand that some people feel like they have to take the work, I understand that student debt is a thing,” says Rose. “I understand that people are feeling desperate. But in the long term, it hurts us.”
Before the strike, the Halifax Typographical Union, the journalists’ union at the Herald, offered concessions to the Herald, such as placing caps on severance, reducing vacation allotment, and a five per cent wage cut.
But they’ve all been rejected.
Sword says there’s been an ongoing rift between the Herald and their staff. The newspaper laid off 24 people in 2009 and 18 more in 2014.
“We see it as an assault against journalism,” she says. “We’re all kind of in limbo.”
While the budget cuts and layoffs are unfortunate for Herald employees, it’s possible that the newspaper has no choice.
An article from the Poynter Institute, an American journalism research institute, says daily paid newspaper circulation in Canadian households has declined by around 30 per cent since 1995. If the trend continues, print media could be nearly extinct by 2025.
In the meantime, Herald staff are encouraging readers to cancel their subscriptions until the strike is over so the paper will lose money.
“We’re going to stay on the street as long as it takes,” says Sword.
The Herald could not be reached to comment.