Unifor Local 723M recommends rejection of final offer on first new contract since Bell’s 2010 CTV acquisition.

By Chantal Braganza, Associate Editor 

From Feb. 10 to 12, Bell Media employees at Toronto properties that include CP24, BNN and Fashion Television Channel will vote on a final bargaining offer from the company. 

The offer, issued Feb. 4, comes at the end of a conciliation period that began between Unifor Local 723M and Bell Media in November 2014 as a result of bargaining disputes over a number of proposed contract changes. Such changes included transitioning employees from benefit and pension plans established under previous owners to new ones and establishing Family Day as a floater day as opposed to a statutory holiday. 

Bell Media’s parent company, BCE, acquired CTVglobemedia’s television network in 2010. The collective agreement between then-CTV Ltd. and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (the group’s union rep at the time) had provisions for CTV and CHUM employees to take part in a group insurance benefit and a defined-benefit pension plan. 

“In 2010, under CTV, was the last time people working there could apply for a defined-benefit plan,” said Local 723M national representative David Lewington. “That’s 258 employees, full-time. We’ve requested that, in accordance with the 2010 agreement, they be grandfathered into the current agreement.” 

Bell Media’s offer instead proposes members of the unit transition into Bell’s defined-contribution pension plan, which, unlike a defined-benefit plan, does not include a pre-determined income, and also into its Omniflex benefit plan, which features a differing set of extended health-care coverage options at a lower annual contribution rate. 

“We’re recommending that membership reject the final offer to see if we can make some improvements,” said Lewington. “One of our priorities would be to grandfather people into the benefit pension plan. We do hope the employer will agree to that.”

Unifor 723M has at this time not asked members to vote on a strike.

Communications officials at Bell Media declined to comment on the offer or vote. In an emailed statement, however, Bell Media President Kevin Crull wrote to Unifor 723M members that “[w]e want to reassure you that we have done everything we could to reach an agreement, but we have an obligation to respect and be fair to all the other Bell Media employees who have accepted similar changes.”

Voting will continue till 6 p.m., Feb. 12. The bargaining’s mediation period, which began with Bell Media’s final offer, ends Feb. 26, at which point if an agreement is not reached both parties will have a legal right to a lockout or strike.

Update, Feb 13.

According to Unifor Local 723M’s update website, the bargaining unit has voted to accept the offer. A posted statement reads:

“In the vote conducted over three days at two locations eighty-two percent (82%) of eligible bargaining unit members voted fifty-seven percent (57%) in favour of accepting the offer. In the coming days the Union and the Company will meet to finalize the provisions of the Collective Agreement consistent with the language the parties agreed to in bargaining and the terms of the final offer.”