Not surprisingly, when editorial staff at the Toronto Sun drafted an appeal to their colleagues to unionize with the Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild (SONG), a local of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), they were characteristically anxious to assure all concerned that "this is hardly a left-wing insurgency." There have been a couple of union drives over at 333 King East before, but they fizzled out quickly because, simply, no one cared -- and no one was getting laid off.
But many at the paper seem to feel that they'd rather risk the company of a union than the unmediated wrath of the Sun's Montreal-based Quebecor management that "may as well be a world away."
"I guess maybe it wasn't bad enough during earlier drives," offers SONG rep Howard Law, who is already casually referring to the still ongoing campaign as "successful." According to Law, sign-up in editorial has crested at 70 per cent plus and is now spreading to other departments. "It seems to be bad enough now."
The drive is being pushed by 11 editorial employees, among them four editors and some popular reporters.
None, however, is willing to talk about it -- at least not publicly. City Hall bureau chief Zen Ruryk and assistant city editor Brad Honywill, the drive's main organizers, beg off when reached at the Sun's offices Tuesday. Ditto for managers at the Sun.
Quebecor refers NOW's calls to Sun Media national account rep Heidi McLeod, who's quick to downplay the whole thing. She also says she doesn't know anything about staffers in other departments telling management who's signing on to the drive.
Sun Media has been a property of Quebecor since late 1999, when the Montreal-based converge-o-phile beat out TorStar ian a bid for the tabloid company.
Since that acquisition, there have been two waves of layoffs at the Sun. This is even more staggering in light of the fact that the paper is actually turning a tidy profit -- $35 million in the last fiscal year and an anticipated $40 million in the coming one.
One might think the intimidating spectre of layoffs wouldn't be the best way to encourage staff to keep doing whatever it is that readers and advertisers seem to like, but the union boosters have a succinct theory on why it's happening: "Quebecor has no interest in the Sun other than to milk this newspaper of profit to pay off its huge debts in the cable industry."
Those debts amount to $8 billion, stemming from floundering Quebec media monopolist Videotron.
Videotron also offers an example of how Quebecor might react to a successful union vote, having locked out 2,200 employees since last May amid accusations of sabotage from both sides. Some think Quebecor might export its vengeance on unions to Ontario.
Law says management has skirted labour laws by "implying" to employees that they will actually lose more wages and jobs if they unionize.
McLeod says, "A lot of perks and benefits would be taken away from us immediately if we became unionized. It would be really negative."