BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN
Sudbury CBC employees say they are anxious to vote in favour of the tentative agreement hammered out over the weekend between management and their union, the Canadian Media Guild.
Although a back-to-work plan had not been announced as of Northern LifeÂ?s news deadline, most employees thought they would be voting on the contract Thursday or Friday, and probably be back on the job as of next Tuesday.
About 5,500 journalists and technicians in all provinces except Quebec who are employed by the public broadcaster have been locked out since Aug. 15.
Sherry Huff, who produces the English morning and afternoon shows for CBC Radio in northeastern Ontario, says there are many positive aspects to the tentative agreement.
The public broadcaster has promised to limit the number of contract workers to 9.5 percent of the full-time workforce, which has been a major sticking point in negotiations. Contract workers will also become permanent employees after they have worked non-stop for CBC for a few years.
Employees will get a 12.6 percent pay increase to the end of the contract, which runs until 2009, and a $1,000 signing bonus.
Â?We see this as a victory, because contract workers are now protected better than ever, and are being kept in check. You can no longer have more than 9.5 percent of the people who work for CBC on contract,Â? says Huff.
The producer says sheÂ?s not sure how much gearing-up time the broadcaster will give her news team if they do, in fact, go back to work next week.
Â?ItÂ?s going to be a bit surreal to get back online, to get our newscasts on, and get our morning and afternoon shows back on...What theyÂ?re working on right now is the back-to-work protocol,Â? she says.
Â?IÂ?m hoping that they make allowances for some preparation time. At the very least weÂ?ll have (Morning North host Marcus Schwabe) back on the air playing music and giving his weather.Â?
The producer is frustrated to have missed out on so many important news events over the past seven weeks. It was especially hard to ignore the opening of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and advances in the softwood lumber dispute, says Huff.
Â?You have so much time on your hands, and you feel so useless. ThereÂ?s all these things happening in our region that we canÂ?t cover. We canÂ?t help people understand. ItÂ?s very frustrating,Â? she says.
Local businesses and ordinary citizens have been extremely kind to the locked out CBC workers, says Huff.
Â?People will stop and give us $20 for the union fund to buy coffee. The number of home-made baked goods that get dropped off is just unbelievable. WeÂ?ve all gained weight because people feed us so well,Â? she says.
Schwabe is delighted he could be returning to the Morning North studio next week.
Â?I think the mood on the picket line is very positive as well, now that weÂ?re finally going to get back inside and back to our jobs. IÂ?m even glad to get back to the part of my job which includes standing on the sidewalk, doing the weather,Â? he says.
Â?IÂ?ve missed the work, IÂ?ve missed talking to people, the thrill of being on the radio, and IÂ?ve missed the pay cheque too. IÂ?ve got a family to support. Being unemployed is not fun.Â?