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union busters

WestMount announces closure The company which owns the Whistler Question and the Squamish Chief is closing its Sunshine Coast publication, a move which employees feel may be an attempt at union busting. Bob Doull, president of Glassford Press Ltd., wrote to the union Nov. 16, the day before talks on a first contract were to begin, announcing the Coast News will not publish after Jan. 30, 1995. The closure will mean the loss of 29 full and part-time jobs. Thirty-six people who occasionally insert flyers will also be without work. "Glassford Press Ltd., does not have the ability to support the continuing operating losses of the business," Doull wrote. "The closure of the business and the terminations are a result of economic necessity." Doull, who could not be reached for comment, is president of WestMount Press, which owns community newspapers in Alberta and B.C. including the Whistler Question, the Squamish Chief and the Banff Crag and Canyon. Andy Jukes, production manager of the Coast News, said although Doull indicated the decision was made for financial reasons, it's more likely the closure was announced because employees at other papers in the chain were monitoring the union action. "I don't think it's any great secret that Bob Doull is no great fan of unions," Jukes said. "What happened to us is a message to other employees in the chain." Jukes said Coast News staffers were aware of the tough financial shape the paper was in, and they were prepared not to make union-scale wages an issue during negotiations for a first contract. The Coast News was organized by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada last summer. Employees sought union representation after Coast News reporter Don Anderson, and editor Larry Marshall were fired over an editorial which called Sunshine Coast retailers lazy and unsophisticated. Publisher Gary Hebert was fired a few weeks later. Anderson, now editor of the Kootenay Weekly Express in Nelson, says the fiscal woes of the Coast News were well known, and cash shortfalls could be an easy excuse for union busting. "Their concern over the union was easy to see," Anderson says. "The question that begs to be asked is what started all of this - unionization or financial problems?" Jukes says after Anderson and Marshall were fired many Coast News employees wanted the job security a union would bring. "The way those guys were fired contravened guidelines published in an employee handbook one month earlier," Jukes says. "Our basic concern was if they could do this to Don and Larry they could do it to any of us." According to Jukes, it will be business as usual for the Coast News until the last issue hits the streets. After that, he says a number of the employees are looking at the possibility of starting another community newspaper in the area. "It's hard to work knowing that the end is near, but we want to keep up our professional integrity to show the community there may be a long-term plan to start up another newspaper on the coast."

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