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After 18 months, Halifax Chronicle Herald and striking employees reach tentative deal

A sign for the Halifax Chronicle Herald is seen as members of the newsroom union picket outside the newspaper's office. Workers walked off the job on January 23, 2016.

Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Halifax Chronicle Herald and the union representing the paper's employees have reached a tentative agreement weeks after the provincial government intervened in the bitter 18-month-old labour dispute.

Unionized reporters, photographers, editors and support staff walked off the job on Jan. 23, 2016, after bargaining over the newspaper's union contract broke down as a result of issues regarding wage and jobs cuts and increased working hours. The company said the changes were needed to cope with economic challenges facing the newspaper industry.

Last month, the province launched an Industrial Inquiry Commission that imposed mediation on the two groups, a step the union had asked the government to take repeatedly in recent months. If the mediation had not led to a tentative agreement, an appointed commissioner would have launched an investigation into the causes of the strike and would have provided recommendations to the minister on future steps.

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Union members will vote on the tentative deal on Thursday. Until then, a media blackout is in place and the details of the agreement will not be released.

"We're very relieved we got to the point where we could make a deal" said Ingrid Bulmer, the president of the Halifax Typographical Union, adding that the provincially appointed mediator William Kaplan was very important in getting to this stage. "We are looking forward to seeing it ratified and working together with the company to get past this long dispute we had."

If agreed on, employees would return to work on Aug. 14, Ms. Bulmer said. Not all 51 employees will be going back, she said, but the specifics of that could not be disclosed as the information is part of the tentative agreement.

"I'm guessing it probably will be approved by the union members," said Stephen Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King's College. "It's entirely possible that this agreement will not satisfy everyone and [they] will be back on the picket line on Friday, but my guess is that both sides were aware of what was needed to settle this."

Ian Scott, chief operating officer for SaltWire Network, which owns The Chronicle Herald, Canada's oldest and largest independently owned newspaper, said the company would not be able to comment on the tentative deal and has agreed to "radio silence" prior to ratification.

The SaltWire Network and the Halifax Typographical Union said in a joint statement Saturday that a deal had been reached after two days of mediation. Both groups thanked Mr. Kaplan, the mediator appointed by the government of Nova Scotia to resolve the dispute.

"I think it's very interesting that within two days of this high-powered mediator becoming involved they reached an agreement," Prof. Kimber said. "It forces you to ask yourself, 'Could this have been settled months ago if in fact the government had appointed a mediator when they were first asked to do so?'"

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Nova Scotia's acting Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, Derek Mombourquette, thanked the two sides and the mediator in a statement on Saturday for their work to reach the tentative agreement and hopes this "begins the process of rebuilding the relationship between the two parties."

The Herald has relied on staff who crossed the picket line for almost 18 months while its unionized employees have been on strike. Striking workers launched their own news site, localxpress.ca, which will be closed down if the agreement is reached, Ms. Bulmer said.

"I think that it's going to be very difficult to mend this broken relationship," Prof. Kimber said. "This was a relationship that was problematic even before the strike began. There is a lot of bad blood and a lot anger and resentment that is going to be hard to resolve when they have to get back to the same building and work together to make a newspaper."

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