Toronto Star, union reach new agreement on outsourcing

The Toronto Star has reached an agreement with the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild regarding the union’s proposed alternatives to outsourcing. The Star will not be outsourcing its pagination and copy editing work, but ad building and other work in the pre-publishing division will still be contracted out.

In a memo to employees (the full text of the memo is pasted below), Star publisher John Cruickshank told employees that “this alternative to contracting out will still result in a number of layoffs in the newsroom, with details on specific numbers to be communicated as soon as possible.”

In November the Star announced it was “exploring the contracting out” some newsroom work and asked employees to consider voluntary buyout packages in advance of any layoffs. One month later, the newspaper announced that 166 staffers had applied for severance packages and been accepted. At that time, nine unionized employees and two managers were also laid off.

The full text of publisher John Cruickshank’s memo is pasted below:

Date:   January 18, 2009
To:     All Staff
From:   John Cruickshank

I am writing to report that the company has concluded its detailed review of the Guild’s proposed alternatives to contracting out positions in Pre-Publishing and Editorial.

The union’s proposals for both these areas were detailed, thorough and well thought out.  They clearly recognized the nature of the significant financial challenges facing the Star in today’s environment.   Many staff members actively contributed to these proposals and their efforts deserve to be recognized and commended by all parties.

Following detailed and careful review, the company and the union have reached an agreement on an alternative to contracting out of pagination and copy editing work in the Star’s newsroom.  The agreed-upon alternative provides a viable and realistic way of achieving the efficiencies and cost savings required in this area of our business.  The success of this alternative will depend on the ability and willingness of both parties to work together to implement the changes that are required and which have been agreed to by the parties.  Regretfully, this alternative to contracting out will still result in a number of layoffs in the newsroom, with details on specific numbers to be communicated as soon as possible.  The union will be holding a ratification vote later this week to obtain staff endorsement of the associated contractual changes.

In the Pre Publishing Division, the company has concluded, following a careful and detailed review, to proceed with contracting out of ad building and other work activities.   This was a very difficult decision, made more so by the tremendous effort put forward by the union team in preparing and presenting their alternative to contracting out.   In the end, however, it is the company’s judgment that the necessary levels of efficiency cannot be achieved and implemented if we do not contract out this non-core work.  External vendors have honed their ability to do this work at a much lower cost and higher rate of productivity than we can achieve using an in-house solution.  This is core work for them, and not core work for the Star.   We have provided to the union, and to employees in this area of our business, a more detailed analysis of our conclusions and reasons for deciding to proceed with contracting out.

In both the Editorial and Pre-Publishing areas, much work remains to be done to actually realize and implement the transformational changes that are required.  An unfortunate but necessary consequence of these changes will be the departure of many valued and talented colleagues in each area.  Their departure is the unfortunate consequence of the major structural and economic changes affecting our company and our industry.  We will continue to do what we can to facilitate a smooth transition for those individuals who depart from the Star.  They have been valued colleagues and their contributions to the Star have been significant over many years.

For those remaining in these two areas of our business, and indeed in all parts of the Star, increased change will be the continuing theme.   In the newsroom, in particular, fundamental change will be required in job design, work scheduling, performance management and many other areas.   The company’s decision to accept the union’s alternative was founded on the efficiencies that we have collaboratively identified through this process, which enable us to maintain this important newsroom work internally while still achieving the improvements that are required.   The agreed-upon alternative to contracting out will depend on our ability to implement these changes, and we look forward to working cooperatively with staff and the union as we transform these newsroom functions.

In closing, I sincerely hope this alternative process marks a fundamental change in the Star’s relationship with the Southern Ontario Newsmedia Guild.    Throughout this process, both parties demonstrated a strong willingness to work together and remain open to new and different approaches.  I look forward to a continued dialogue with the union and with staff in using this process as a springboard for a long-term cooperative relationship that respects the important interests and perspectives of both the company and its talented workforce.

We will keep all employees informed as we move forward in implementing these changes.

John Cruickshank