Popular Cree-language programs will return to the radio and television airwaves this week in the wake of a vote by locked-out Radio-Canada newsroom employees to accept management contract offers. Members of the Syndicat des communications de Radio-Canada (SCRC) voted 694 to 302 to accept the contract at an extraordinary general assembly in Montreal May 22.

The CBC Northern Service in Quebec was shut down when Radio-Canada management declared a lock-out after a one-day union work stoppage March 22. Nine CBC North workers, eight of whom are Native, were affected.

The vote came a week after essentially the same contract offers, which include a phased-in seven per cent pay raise and the creation of 152 permanent positions, were narrcwly rejected, 502-499. Promises to improve labour-management relations through a dialogue process and a return-to-work protocol were tacked on in last-minute negotiations last week.

CBC North program host Stéphane Boisjoly says the mostly Native employees of the service face large and unresolved salary inequities compared to their Radio-Canada colleagues. But he’s still happy to be going back to his job.

“It’s been two months on the street,” said Boisjoly. “The people at CBC North wanted to get back to work. We have understood the message from the union leadership that they couldn’t win anything more in negotiations at this time.” Boisjoly says the message has been heard by the union leadership, which created a union delegate position, now held by Boisjoly, for the CBC North workers. But he said it hasn’t gotten through to management, despite the addition of one permanent position at CBC North. He hopes the salary differences of $5,000 or more for equivalent positions will be addressed in the future through a grievance process.

Still, others at CBC North are angry that their demands were left off the negotiating table. Speaking during the May 17 assembly, Raymond Shanoush said he felt “like a piece of paper that was tossed over a shoulder. They didn’t negotiate anything we asked for.” One of the major issues for CBC North workers was the right to other jobs based on seniority in the case of service reductions or outright elimination of CBC North. Commonly called “bumping,” the demands were rejected by Radio Canada negotiators. “For us, we see it as a tool to give our other colleagues a motive to defend us,” Shanoush explained. “I know it is a touchy subject, but without that we are all alone.” CBC North host Arnold Cheechoo addressed the May 17 assembly with a plea to his overwhelmingly francophone colleagues. “The Native employees of CBC North – we’re no different from you,” Cheechoo said. “In today’s Gazette I read the issue is over pay equity between employees of Radio-Canada and CBC [in English Canada]. But there is no p^ equity between CBC North and Radio-Canada. How is it that you did not get pay equity for us, the Natives of Radio-Canada?” Boisjoly observed that several people told him that the interventions by CBC North workers during the May 17 assembly convinced them to reject the contract offers. Given the closeness of the vote, their issues m^ have made the difference.

“So I am persuaded that people new understand what is at stake,” he said. “And the struggle for our rights will continue.”