An 18-month strike by staff at the Halifax Chronicle Herald is over after the paper and unionized workers reached an agreement that provides for an eight-year employment contract.

Following a tentative deal reached last Saturday with the help of a provincially appointed mediator, 94 per cent of the workers voted in favour of ratifying it.

The vote came as a relief to many employees, says Martin O’Hanlon, president at the Communications Workers of America Canada, the parent union of the Halifax Typographical Union that represents the employees. “I think people just wanted this thing over. While the deal isn’t the best deal . . . people figure they fought as much as they can and this was the time to settle.”

Read: Halifax Chronicle Herald union votes to strike over pension benefits

Reporters, photographers, editors and support staff have been on the picket lines since Jan. 23, 2016, following a dispute over the newspaper’s proposed contract conditions.

A major point of contention during the dispute was the company’s attempt to cut benefits, specifically short-term disability payments, says O’Hanlon. Benefits, he notes, were one of the last issues settled during the negotiations.

Previously, unionized employees could receive 100 per cent of their salary during six months of sick leave before moving to long-term disability, says O’Hanlon. “So [the company] had watered that down. And what we essentially settled for is you get one-month full pay and then it would be 70 per cent benefits after that, until long-term disability kicks in.”

Read: Ontario aerospace workers facing 25% pension cut

He says workers refused to back down on the issue because short-term disability leave is important for those who can’t work due to major illnesses like cancer.

And while the company’s plans to switch to a defined contribution pension plan was a concern for the unionized workers, they were willing to concede to that change early in the negotiation process, says O’Hanlon. “Before we entered talks, the company signalled they needed help with the pension and we essentially agreed. We understood the pension liability was a big issue and so we had said we were willing to talk to them and work out a deal and very early on in the strike, that issue was settled.”

According to the final agreement, employees will move their pensions from the Chronicle Herald plan to one run by the International Typographical Union. Employee contributions will drop to about two per cent of wages from 6.3 per cent. Company contributions remain at 6.3 per cent.

Read: Airport workers on strike at Pearson over health benefits

The final contract also included the following terms:

  • A five per cent wage cut for employees but with pay increases over the next seven years;
  • Severance of 2.5 weeks’ pay for each year of service with a cap of 68 weeks;
  • Work week increases to 37.5 hours from 35 hours;
  • No layoffs for two years and new language that protects against transferring unionized members’ work to non-union employees; and
  • Reductions in vacation and sick leave entitlements.

It was only after the province intervened in July and appointed a mediator that both sides were able to reach an agreement, says O’Hanlon.

According to the union, only 27 out of the 61 employees who went on strike will return to work on Tuesday. Six found other jobs during the dispute, while the company is laying off the rest of them.

Read: Canada Post labour dispute: A look at the company’s existing DC plan for some workers

“The Chronicle Herald is pleased to learn that the union membership has voted to accept the settlement reached at provincially orchestrated mediation last weekend bringing an end to their 18-month long strike,” said Mark Lever, president and chief executive officer of Chronicle Herald owner SaltWire Network Inc. in an email to Benefits Canada.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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