Roughly two dozen newsroom employees at Canada's largest independent daily newspaper held signs and waved to honking cars Saturday on the first day of a strike as the company sent out 18 layoff notices.
The Halifax Typographical Union, which represents 61 editorial staff at the Halifax Chronicle Herald, said the work stoppage began at 12:01 a.m. local time Saturday after talks broke down earlier this week.
Workers donned tuques and snow pants on the picket line Saturday morning as temperatures dipped to -15 C with the wind chill..
"I think it was orchestrated by the company to come to this. They certainly tried their best to get us to where we are right now. There was no negotiation whatsoever," said union president Ingrid Bulmer on the picket line.
"We were forced to strike. We don't want to be out here but there was no other option."
Union vice-president Frank Campbell said 18 layoff notices were delivered Saturday to photographers, layout and design editors and support staff, and the union's legal team is looking into whether the company is allowed to do that during a strike.
"To see a list of 18 people, it's very painful. It's frustrating and it's demoralizing to see 18 people you've worked with over the years, people you know as dedicated journalists and friends, given a layoff notice for seemingly no reason," said Campbell as employees stood on the sidewalk in front of the Herald offices on Joseph Howe Drive.
In a statement Saturday morning, the company confirmed the layoffs and said seven workers will be offered new jobs in the company's centralized production centre.
Campbell said one of the biggest issues in the labour dispute is job security. He said the company has proposed a contract that "would basically allow them to layoff people at will."
The union has said it believes the primary goal of management in the contract dispute is union busting.
The union says it would remain a union "in name only" if proposals that make more than 1,232 changes to the existing contract were accepted.
The Herald has said it wants to reduce wages, lengthen working hours, alter future pension benefits and lay off up to 18 workers to cope with economic challenges that have beset North America's newspaper industry.
The Herald's chief operating officer Ian Scott said concessions are never easy to swallow, but the industry is reeling from the effects of online news and declines in ad revenue.
"We have tried to be as compassionate and caring as possible. But the economics of a news business today are excruciating," said Scott in a statement Saturday.
In an open letter published Friday, the newspaper's chief executive Mark Lever said the paper will continue publishing despite the work stoppage.
"We are making the necessary adjustments to our operations to meet our commitments to our customers and our community," he wrote.
Campbell has said strike pay in the initial two weeks for senior reporters and photographers is about $217, and grows in the weeks that follow.