Question staff vote to strike Yes vote is ploy to get arbitrated contract By Chris Woodall Staff of the Whistler Question newspaper voted in favour of strike action, Tuesday, Nov. 4, but they are unlikely to be wielding picket signs any time soon, unless they’re locked out by management. There are 19 staff in the bargaining unit, eighteen voted: 12 saying yes, and six saying no. The vote gives the employer notice that the union can call a strike within 72 hours. The actions are not steps of immediate intent, but are to enable the union to use "Section 55" of the Labour Code, says Marg Randall, assistant business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union representing the Question's staff. "There are no plans to use the vote," Randall says of direct strike action. The vote indicates that a mediated settlement is unlikely. The IBEW certified the Question staff in June. Staff and management have been negotiating a first contract since then. If Section 55 is acted on, the mediator becomes an arbitrator determining the final settlement for both sides. The strike vote came after mediated talks broke down on Friday, Oct. 31, says Randall. There are two paths the arbitration process can take. One is that the mediator-turned-arbitrator takes 20 days to work with both parties to determine an agreement that will be imposed on the situation. The arbitrator's decision must also be submitted to LRB chair Brain Foley. The second is for both parties to agree to let the arbitrator have a free hand to determine a binding settlement that the sides must live with. Wages and job security are the main issues, according to Randall. Reporters at the Question, for example, currently get a starting wage of $13 an hour. The union wants to see a 4 per cent increase for reporters after their first year, and 3 per cent after their second year. Randall says Question management want to roll back the starting wage to $10.56 an hour, then offer a 21 cents an hour increase to reporters after their first year. Reporters currently earning $13 an hour (or more, depending on seniority) would keep their wage levels. Phone calls to Question publisher Bryce McGregor for comment were not returned. Sales staff would not see the 4 and 3 per cent increases because higher line rates charged by the Question to its advertisers should result in higher commission income for sales staff, Randall says of the union proposal. But sales staff would get a lump payment to match pay increases of other staff. Sales staff also want to protect their client lists from being poached by management to create client lists for new sales staff, Randall says. "Sales staff don't mind giving up some clients to new sales staff, but they want a say in which ones they give up," Randall says. "It could be used as a discipline tactic that is not just, fair or reasonable," Randall says. "This is a real strong point." Another issue is money earned from re-sale of photographs or stories created by Question staff to other newspapers. "When the employer sold a photo to the New York Times, the photographer didn't get anything," Randall says of a recent incident. The employer could lock out staff at any time, but Randall says: "I'd be surprised if the employer tried any job action. No one likes a strike or to lock out its staff."