Unions Killed The Media Star

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Image via Washington Post

Unions are a powerful force in modern business. Too powerful. The adversarial nature at which they see the employer puts them at an inability to recognize the true nature of business – it changes, it evolves, people come, people go. Unions are stagnant anchors that threaten to kill the very jobs they are sworn to protect.

Vancouver’s two newspapers are about to undergo a radical makeover. Gordon Fisher, the new publisher at the Pacific Newspaper Group issued a very blunt memo to staff this week.

“Future decisions will be hard and must be made with a sense of urgency. Expense reductions have also come nowhere near closing the gap. If these trends continue, and if we don’t find ways to dramatically reduce costs, the answer is clear. The business is unsustainable.”

In summary: Things are bad. They’re getting worse. There will be blood.

While newsrooms have tried to become nimble in creating online content, and trying to find new ways to monetize their content and make up for the shortfall in revenue, there is one thing they have never been able to control: costs.

While the revenue has tumbled off a very severe cliff, the costs have been constant, or have risen. Unions see to that.

Once necessary to protect workers from abuse my companies, unions have gained so much control they threaten to bankrupt their employers with increasing demands. You simply need to look at the contract for CEP with Pacific Newspaper Group. There is a clause that says employees cannot lose their job because of advancements in technology.

Yes. I have heard anecdotes about the printing facility in the Lower Mainland. A place fiercely protective of the membership. If it is Joe’s job to press button B, and he’s not around – nobody else can press it because they would be showing efficiencies that would mean Joe’s job would be unnecessary. Despite advancements in printing technology that require more machines and fewer people, each job is protected.


Think of the advancements in internet technology alone over the past few years.

Facebook is only 9 years old. YouTube is just 8. Twitter is barely 7. The iPad just turned 3 this month.

In 2003, the best laptop from PC World could be found with 40GB of hard drive space. Today I can get a Macbook Pro with 750 gigs of storage.

1993 2013Things have advanced considerably, just in the past decade, but the production facility for this newspaper group has a contract that protects every single job loss due to a technological advancement. They are 40GB hard drives competing in a 1TB world. They are MySpace vs Facebook. They are Rio Audio vs Apple. Times have changed, and while the companies have tried to become leaner, they can’t because of the union anchor around their necks.

It is reasonable for times to change and for employment situations to evolve. 20 years ago, I needed a lot of equipment to produce a piece of information to spread to people. Today, I need simply an iPhone. Unions cannot expect time to stand still.

The Pacific News Group will have to find economic reasons to get the layoffs it needs to survive, and their argument will not be difficult to make. The union has made it abundantly clear the ship is going down. So Fisher is pleading for his team to pull together.

“If you do anything every day of the week let it be this: ask yourself if you are part of the solution or willing to be part of the solution. If you aren’t part of the solution, ask yourself why that is. We are all in this together and we are all fighting not only for the future of the Vancouver Sun and the Province but for the lives and well-being of our families.”

The sad part about the first stage of layoffs is they will be done by voluntary buyouts. The staff have been offered severance packages of 6 weeks per year of employment. The good staff, those who know the ship is sinking, will accept the buyouts and quickly move to a new career. With the good ones gone, more of the dead weight, the less employable, is left behind.

And so the attrition continues until the company can no longer compete. The good people are gone, the bad ones are left. The creativity and innovation sapped by the union contracts that clings to the past and the company dies.

In its bloodlust to protect every single job, the union will, effectively, kill them all.

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Buzz Bishop

Dad. Broadcaster. Writer. Media Disruptor. Two time Guinness World Record Holder. I run marathons for Team Diabetes.

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