Locked-out employees of the CBC Northern Service in Quebec continue to make their case for better salaries and working conditions. The nine CBC North workers have elected a union representative to push their case during negotiations with CBC/Radio-Canada management, which locked out 1,400 newsroom employees from Quebec and New Brunswick March 22.

Stéphane Boisjoly says much of his challenge is to raise awareness of CBC North workers within the union (the Syndicat des Communications de Radio-Canada) and the public at large – and also to point out that they earn far less for a greater workload than equivalent jobs in CBC and Radio Canada.

Announcer-Producers at CBC North – eight of nine of whom are Native, including seven Crees – earn $5,000 less per year than their Radio-Canada colleagues in the same job.

They also do more work, says Boisjoly. The unit produces 15.5 hours of programming a week, Boisjoly notes, saying that far more staff is required to produce equivalent programming on the French or English radio-television networks.

He also points to a lack of seniority. “That means that 100 per cent of the native people working for CBC in Montreal have no seniority rights outside of their unit,” says Boisjoly, who is Abenaki. “So I think there is prejudice. I don’t think it’s intentional toward the Cree, but still we want the right to work elsewhere for the corporation based on seniority if the CBC ever decides to close the service.” The CBC North workers have organized a number of events to raise public awareness of their issues. They held a Native Support Day in front of the Maison Radio-Canada April 13, attended by Kashtin singer Florent Voilant and Ghislain Picard, the Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for Quebec and Labrador. Picard denounced the lack of even basic programming for CBC North, while both CBC and Radio-Canada in Quebec continue to broadcast.

“So this lock-out has an even greater impact on the Cree population,” Boisjoly said. “Especially now that it’s goose break and people rely on the CBC for important weather information. Sometimes their lives can depend on this service.” Cree negotiator Romeo Saganash has also composed a letter of support for the locked-out CBC North employees. But Boisjoly is saddened at the lack of support from Cree Grand Chief Ted Moses. “My Cree colleagues and myself were quite disappointed that Grand Chief Ted Moses has not done or said anything yet. He has all the information. He was presented with Romeo’s letter, but he refused to sign it.” Boisjoly’s biggest fight has been internal, however. “I’ve been pushing the union negotiating committee to fight for our rights” he says. “I want the union to talk about Native people. It’s black and white – in the collective agreement Native people are paid less. I think that what we have achieved is that people now know we are there and that we will not be silent anymore.” His efforts are paying off. The union executive met with CBC North workers for the first time ever April 15, when it was decided Boisjoly would represent the unit within the union. Boisjoly also appeared with other union representatives before the House of Commons standing committee on human resources development.

He says he is now “almost” satisfied with the way the union is addressing issues facing its Native members. “I’m not a union militant,” he says. “But I’m militant about human rights in general.”