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Halifax Chronicle Herald staff approve new contract after 18-month strike

Striking journalists walk outside the Chronicle Herald building in Halifax on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A labour dispute at Canada's largest independently owned daily newspaper ended Thursday after striking workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new contract.

Newsroom employees at the Halifax Chronicle Herald voted 94 per cent in favour of the new eight-year deal, which union president Ingrid Bulmer described as a "relief" for members who have spent 18 months on the picket line.

"It's been a long haul," the head of the Halifax Typographical Union, a local of CWA Canada, said after Thursday's vote. "Most people are just relieved to have this chapter closed."

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Of the roughly 60 reporters, photographers, editors and support staff that walked off the job in January 2016, 25 will return to work next week, 26 are laid off, one is moving to Herald's newly-acquired Cape Breton Post newspaper and the rest quit during the protracted strike.

Chronicle Herald president and CEO Mark Lever said the company was pleased the union accepted the offer.

"We want to welcome our award-winning team of almost 30 journalists back to the newsroom," he said in a statement. "They will be working alongside a team of correspondents located across the province to deliver the local coverage, perspective and insights Nova Scotians want and need."

Lever also thanked former newsroom employees who are not returning for their contributions to the paper.

In April, the Halifax media company bought all of Transcontinental Media's newspapers in Atlantic Canada and formed a new business concern, SaltWire Network, comprising 27 Transcontinental newspapers, the novanewsnow.com website and the Herald's own publications.

The 18-month strike was punctuated by lengthy negotiations and stalled talks until the Nova Scotia government stepped in last month and called an industrial inquiry commission.

The province appointed labour lawyer and veteran mediator William Kaplan as commissioner, who helped the company and the union hammer out a draft deal Saturday after two days of talks.

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The agreement ratified by union members includes pension changes, wage roll-backs, longer work days and reduced severance, sick leave and vacation entitlements going forward.

Though the union maintained a seniority clause on future layoffs and jurisdiction over content production — major sticking points that provide workers with greater job security — reporters and photographers will now become multi-media journalists responsible for both tasks.

The company can now use non-union staff for page production, or outsource the design and layout of pages, while web duties will be shared between union and non-union employees.

"There is no real sense of anybody being able to claim it was a win-win after such a long time," said Bulmer, who said she is part of the group being laid off.

"The damage that was done to the Herald, and the amount of time and effort put into the strike, the effect it has had on members and their families financially and mentally ... there was simply a sense of relief that we can all move on with our lives, one way or another, whether your're going back or getting severed."

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