Tag Archives: Unions

Writing News With A Union Label ► Throwback Thursday

Gather ’round, kiddies, and I’ll tell you the story of when I was a News Writer for Citytv’s BreakfastTelevision [sic] and wrote the perfect news script.

I worked at CityPulse for just over a decade. During my time there I cycled through every newscast they had: CityPulse at 6, CityPulse at 11, the weekend Pulses, and the short-lived LunchTelevision. However, most of my time was on BreakfastTelevision, some 8 years. I was with the show the day it was launched. While the station had an idea of what the show would be, it was up to us to give it shape and flesh it out.

I enjoyed the hell out of my job, but everything changed for me the day I wrote the perfect script.

The News Segment Producer, the person who gave the News Writers, Editors, Control Room their marching orders, had a soft spot for animal stories. I knew that whenever there was an animal story, either local or off the feeds, she would make sure to devote precious air time to it. On this particular morning she handed me some wire copy, told me there was VID on the overnight satellite feed, and tasked me with writing the script for it. It was a simple, but heartwarming, story of a university in the east closing en entire parking lot because an endangered bird chose to build a nest and lay eggs in it.

Kevin Frankish was one of the nicest people I wrote
for. “Choose alternate routes” is an homage to him.

Because it wouldn’t come up until later in the show — the last News Pack at 8:30 — I pushed it aside. In the meantime there were stories to write for earlier packs. As I handled those first, it came to me in a flash how I should treat this purple plover story. I quickly banged it off, polished it, and then sheepishly took it to Kevin Frankish, which was not the normal chain of command. However, let’s face facts: If Kevin refused to read it, there was little point in giving it to the producer for approval. I handed him the script and asked what he thought.

Kevin took one look at it, laughed, and said, “I love it!”

With his approval under my belt I took it to the News Producer who said, “Kevin will never read this.”

“I just showed it to him. He loves it,” I replied.

She yells across the room to the Assignment Desk, “ABOUT THIS SCRIPT OF HEADLY’S?!?!”

Kevin yells back, “I LOVE IT!!!”

That’s exact moment my fate was sealed. Here’s how it opened:

In Pembroke a pair of purple plovers picked a patch of parking lot to procreate.

The rest of the script was just a quick rewrite of the wire copy to match the footage. I printed out the obligatory 12 copies of the script and hand delivered Kevin’s to him, leaving the rest for the intern to distribute as usual.

The Purple Plover

For the next 2 hours, whenever he wasn’t on camera, I could see Kevin practicing the script. I couldn’t wait to hear this jewel delivered. However, the minute my script hit the TelePrompTer, it all fell apart. Kevin started sputtering like Porky Pig, tripping his entire way through the opening line.

Finally he broke and said, “See the things they get me to read here? Headly, what are you doing to me?”

I was always thrilled when my name was mentioned On Air, because it was so infrequent. However, that was one of the last thrills I ever had at Citytv.

When my boss arrived there was steam coming out of his ears. As he passed through the newsroom, he screamed at me to get into his office, where he yelled at me and swore at me for a good 15 minutes. “WE DO NOT GIVE OUR ANCHORS TONGUE TWISTERS!!!”

“But it was approved up and down the line.”


“But we’re told to make our scripts cheeky and interesting.”


“I was thinking that it would have been great had Kevin not flubbed it.”


Here’s my takeaway from that meeting:

  1. We do not give our anchors tongue twisters;
  2. That day was the first of a non-stop campaign of harassment that continued until I finally left Citytv.

That was the day I became the office goat.

I had seen it happen to others before. Newsroom management would tag someone as the goat either overtly — “Get the fuck in my office right now!” — or it might be a covert whisper campaign that one could watch trickle down from up high — “They’re not our kind of people.” It could be someone new. Or, it could be someone that was there for years and had never been disciplined before, like me.

However, the newsroom staff quickly learned who was the Goat Du Jour. Everyone up and down the chain of command fell into line, treating that employee as toxic. Over the years I saw one goat after another. Eventually the goat would quit or a newer goat would be chosen. Or both.

When I became the goat the harassment was relentless. My newsroom mentor — someone in the know, who attended the management meetings with The Big Boys — told me they wanted me to quit. Because I loved my job, I decided to tough it out convinced they’d eventually find a new goat. I was mistaken.

They started finding every little thing wrong with my performance. I took too long to write some scripts. I didn’t spend enough time writing others. Because writing is subjective, and there’s no sentence that can’t be improved with enough editing, they kept finding individual sentences, out of context, that didn’t meet their suddenly high standards. Keep in mind I had never been tagged for any of this in the previous 8 years.

Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada

Eventually management scheduled a weekly meeting with me and my union rep to rake me over the coals in a discipline hearing. Every fucking week.

It only made management madder at me when I first refused to even meet with them for these punching bag sessions unless they allowed my union rep to attend. Insisting on my union rights just became an invisible black mark, because they couldn’t write it down. But, it sure pissed them off.

In the end I grieved the entire deal. It went to arbitration, which was a mistake. Arbitration is another word for compromise. I was off work for an entire year. At first I was off on a [possibly-related] Medical leave. When I was deemed well, they refused to allow me to come back to work. However, because I had started the grievance process, I couldn’t look for work, otherwise Citytv could say I had quit and abandoned my job. I had to borrow money from family and friends to stay alive and my union advanced me some money as well.

In the end I was sent packing with a lump sum that felt inadequate, but my union told me it was the best I was going to get. Oddly enough, I was never asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Citytv, but they agreed to give me a letter of recommendation and promised not to bad-mouth me to prospective employers. That promise was broken when I had someone in the industry call to say they were thinking of hiring me.

After a lawyer told me I would have trouble suing for that, I stopped using Citytv on my resume. The decade I spent there mattered for nothing in the job market.

Post script: In the end all of those people who yelled and screamed and belittled and harrassed their underlings were fired in a purge when ultimate boss Moses Znaimer found out how they were really treating the people below them, including the on air talent.

If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t write the perfect script.

Happy Labour Day ► Thank A Unionist

As the Right Wing relentlessly attacks Unionism, Labour Day is a the very best day to remember just exactly what we owe to Unionism. It is no stretch to say that if you like living in a free country, thank Unionism. Who do you think built all those war machines who won World War II?

As I writer I never thought I needed a union, until I found myself in a newsroom where everyone was treated egregiously. It was one of the most horrible kinds of working environments where, as the common expression in the newsroom went, the shit ran downhill. We could see it running downhill, too.

We’d learn that the head of the newsroom had been called “upstairs” and we would all cringe, not knowing who would be the target when he came back. However, we all knew there would be targets and, worse, we were all on the downhill slope. When he’d return, he’d have his tail between his legs. That’s when we knew it had really begun.

Ford Motor turned over to produce
Liberators during WWII

He would then call his Number One into his office and we’d hear loud voices as the Number One was chewed out. The Number One would come out with his tail between his legs. Then Number One would start calling individuals into his office one by one. More loud voices as they were chewed out. They would come out one by one with their tail between their legs.

Some of those people were supervisors of a small crew. They would suddenly call staff meetings and more loud voices would be heard as they were chewed out. The only way you would know whether you would be shit upon that day was whether your own supervisor had been called into the Number One’s office. If not, you knew you had avoided the River of Shit, until the next time.

However, that’s not the worst of it. People would be screamed at across the newsroom about poor performance at times, everyone else trying to appear as small as they could so they didn’t become the next target. The newsroom couldn’t seem to function without having a scapegoat and it amused me that one person would be used as the scapegoat for a while, until a new scapegoat was found. It stopped being amusing when, after returning from sick leave, I became the goat and no matter how hard I worked, I was unable to get the stench of goat off me. That’s when I saw the REAL effects of “shit runs downhill.”

Once I became the goat, everyone else in the newsroom, including people who were nominally below me in the pecking order, started treating me like crap, knowing there was nothing I could do or say about it. And those above me? They were far worse. One shoved me out of the way one day, as I was holding the door open for him. When I complained, I was told I had imagined it. Most everyone in the newsroom saw who was the goat and treated me as if I was something they needed to clean off their shoe.

In the end I had to leave and I am glad my union had been there to help me negotiate a (relatively) fair exit and to hold an umbrella over my head when, at times, the River of Shit threatened to engulf me completely. [I would write more about this, but my exit agreement prevents me from saying too much.]

There was a time in this country when Unions were prized and people understood that Unionism saved the country from the Nazis and the Huns as Unionists turned Detroit, and other cities, into the Arsenals of Democracies.

While this list is not comprehensive, Stephen D. Foster Jr. at Addicting Info lists 20 reasons why you should be thanking a Unionist today:

1. Minimum Wage: Without federally mandated minimum wage, we’d still be working for pennies.

2. Child Labor Laws: Without these laws, children would be hired as cheap labor.

3. Paid Vacations: Did you go on a cruise this year? Perhaps to the Grand Canyon or another country? Thank a union.

4. Employer Health Care, Dental, and Vision Insurance: If you have a medical, dental, or vision care plan through your employer, your a lucky person. All because of organized labor.

5. Pensions: If you were able to retire at 65 and get pension checks in the mail, congratulations, you’re living proof that unions work.

6. Safety Conditions: Do you work at a potentially hazardous job but have safety regulations in place to protect you? If so, unions are responsible for your continued safety.

7. Collective Bargaining: Just having the right to negotiate with your employer is a benefit guaranteed by a union.

8. Weekends: If you have weekends off to spend with your families, a labor union is responsible for giving you that time off.

9. Sick Leave: Did you get to use a work provided sick day to get well? Unions fought for that too.

10. Overtime: Are you able to work overtime and get paid even more for it? Thank a union.

11. 8 Hour Work Day: Without unions, we’d all be working non-stop 24/7. Because of unions you’re able to go home and spend some time at home with family and friends before you catch 6-8 hours of sleep.

12. 40 Hour Work Week: Just like number 11, without unions, we’d never have a day off and work would encompass our entire life.

13. Unemployment Benefits: Are you unemployed but receive unemployment benefits to care for your family until you find another job? One word. Unions.

14. Wrongful Termination Laws: Because of unions, you can’t be fired for stupid reasons, like the color of your skin or because you make too much money.

15. Pay Raises: Unions are responsible for your ability to ask for and receive pay raises.

16. Holiday Pay: Do you at least get some holidays off? If so, thank a union.

17. Pregnancy and Parental Leave: In some countries, women give birth on the job and have to go back to work the next day. Corporations would make women do the same thing here if not for the determination of a union.

18. The Right To Strike: We have the right to organize and protest against the government. A union fought for your right to organize and strike against your employer.

19. Equal Pay For Women: Women finally get equal pay for equal work. Thank a union.

20. Laws Ending Sweatshops: Because of unions, sweatshops, which employ cheap labor with harsh conditions, are illegal.

State governments should not be attacking Unionism. Itstead Unionists should be thanked for saving this country so that people could have their freedom to be douchey.