Replacement staff keep three N.B. stations on air as workers strike, says union

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Replacement staff are keeping three private radio stations in New Brunswick on the air while unionized employees picket outside, the union representing the striking workers said Tuesday.

The seven employees, represented by the Canadian Media Guild, include on-air personalities at Saint John stations CFBC, K100 and Big John FM.

The guild said workers had been trying to negotiate their first contract with Halifax-based MBS Radio for nearly 10 months before walking off the job Monday morning.

Gary Stackhouse, president of the bargaining unit in Saint John, said the company has brought in replacement workers to help fill the airwaves.

He said his usual gig on Big John FM’s morning show was being done remotely from Halifax.

“They’re certainly on the air,” he said in an interview.

“They’re certainly not on the air in the kind of manner that they are when they’re fully staffed by local people who know the community.”

The guild, which represents thousands of media workers across Canada, said wages and unpaid overtime remain major issues.

Stackhouse said many of the employees earn just above minimum wage, which is $10 an hour in New Brunswick.

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He said the union is seeking a four-year agreement that would see morning announcers earn $12 an hour as a starting rate, and work up to $17.21.

In a statement posted on Big John FM’s website, MBS said the union’s demands are not realistic or sustainable, and are ultimately “out of touch” with the local market.

The company said it offered workers an increase of just over nine per cent over four years.

“We feel that our offer that was left on the table was more than fair, with a $1,000 signing bonus,” spokeswoman Kelly O’Neill said in an interview.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re still so far apart … we all would like to see this put to bed, for sure. They’re part of our family, the people walking out there.”

Stackhouse said the union believes the company can afford the increase.

“We understand the realities of private radio, but the other reality we’re being asked to ignore is that private radio is profitable,” he said.