Writer, Broadcaster

The Great Lockout of ’05

An Excerpt from Something Technical: A Memoir
Matt Watts offering his support during the Great Lockout of ’05.

On August 15, 2005, CBC locked out its unionized workforce of producers, technicians and other support staff, about 5500 workers, including me, after negotiations with the Canadian Media Guild broke down after fourteen months. Arnold Amber, President of the CBC branch of the Canadian Media Guild, said at the time, “The talks are all over, it’s going forward. We never reached agreement on any of the main issues and there’s still about forty items still undone.” The main issue boiled down to CBC management’s desire to have more flexibility over how it hired its employees, whereas the union in stark contrast was looking for more job security for its members.

I happened to be on vacation at the time, camping with my family. Because this was by now my third job action with the CBC I decided not to worry about it until I was back in town. This meant forfeiting one week’s worth of strike pay, but I didn’t care. A week of sun and leisure and canoeing and uninterrupted family time meant that I was in a pretty good mood by the time I returned to join the line.

 I’ve already written about my first two job actions in these pages. This one would prove to be quite a bit different in character than the others. For one thing, it took place during the summer, when it was warm, which made picketing infinitely more pleasant. But perhaps more importantly for me personally, I decided to blog the entire event. This would have an enormous impact on my whole attitude toward the Lock Out.

By the second week I had set up a blog using the free online blogging service Blogger under the pseudonym “CBC Workerbee.” I had decided to blog anonymously because I had no idea what management would think about my blogging. It seemed prudent to play it safe, though I wasn’t very good about keeping it a secret. My colleague, producer Laurence Stevenson, called CBC Workerbee’s identity the worst kept secret of the lockout. By the end of the lockout I publicly admitted on the blog who I was. As far as I know blogging the lockout resulted in no tangible repercussions to my career (well, yet). John McCarthy, who later hired me into my first position in management, even suggested that it helped me, although there was one curious piece of fallout.

There was a producer with whom I had been friendly. We’d worked on a successful drama series together. This producer was later promoted into management. In the years following the Lock Out I noticed that this person became noticeably unfriendly toward me. I would greet her in line at Ooh La La’s and she would ignore me. At first I figured that maybe she was just hard of hearing, until it happened enough times that I was forced to admit that, no, she really was snubbing me. I couldn’t imagine why. I didn’t associate it with the Lock Out. Especially after twelve or thirteen years had passed.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself in a position where I was required to work directly with this person. I admitted to a friend that I was a little nervous about that because I didn’t think this person liked me. My friend, who knew this person pretty well, let me in on what was going on. The individual in question had been in management during the Lock Out. When she found out that I was the guy behind CBC Workerbee, she held it against me, at least according to my friend. Especially after I joined the management team, which I gather she found hypocritical. How could I criticize management one minute and then become management the next? My response to that would be what better position from which to enact change? In any case, once I heard why this individual disliked me I immediately went back to my CBC Workerbee blog to see what I had written twelve years earlier that had been so offensive.

I discovered that I had been pretty hard on the Senior Executive Team, but not at all hard on middle management, with whom I had (mostly) sympathized. I don’t think my frenemy had read my CBC Workerbee blog that closely. But when it became necessary for us to work together in 2017 to her credit she set aside her reservations, at least to my face, and we got along just fine. She even greeted me in line at Ooh La La’s once or twice.          

Tod Maffin in Simcoe Park
during the Great Lockout of ’05

Unlike the two previous job actions I was involved in, I came to (mostly) enjoy this Lock Out. I looked forward to hitting the picket line and acquiring more information to blog about. I would picket, snap some photos, and then come home to write about what I experienced. The words flowed unlike they had ever flowed before. It turned out I wasn’t the only one blogging about the Lock Out. Dozens of us across the country put pen to screen, posting regular updates. In time about five lock out blogs (as they came to be known) were posting regularly, and were quite well read, including mine.

I think what really spurred me on was, after posting about twice, I got noticed by the King of the Lock Out blogs, Tod Maffin. From that point forward I averaged a readership of about five hundred readers every single post. Blogging became like catnip for me.  I had found my voice. Psychologically it was highly therapeutic. What could otherwise have been a very unpleasant summer became great fun.

Like the other job actions, the Lock Out of 2005 turned into a great opportunity to catch up with all my CBC friends. Walking around the Toronto Broadcast Centre in pleasant weather with old friends was quite enjoyable. It seemed to me that the Senior Executive Team had made a terrible strategic error locking us out in the summer. We were getting strike pay. We were only working twenty hours a week. When we did work (picketing) it was nice catching up with friends and acquaintances. We could do this forever… or at least until it got cold. By the time it did become cold, two months later, it was all over. Ironically, I cherish that summer as one of my favourite times at the CBC. Not a bad way to spend a summer.

By the end of it all I had written and blogged about eighty thousand words. That’s about the length of a novel. I had never written so much so quickly. I found that I had been able to write good, solid blog posts in a draft or two. It completely changed how I approached writing. It convinced me that I could write a complete novel. So immediately following the lockout I tackled a novel I’d been trying to write and wrote an entire draft of one hundred and ten thousand words in about three months. (It took me twelve more years to revise it and get it published, but that’s beside the point!)

Still, even though the experience this time had been mostly positive, for me at least, I’d just as soon never repeat it, on either side of the picket line. A lot of hard work has been done by both CBC management and the union in the intervening years to improve relations, so I’m optimistic that I never will.

Relaxin’ on the line

2 Comments

  1. John Corcelli

    Great story Joe. I remember we walked a few laps around the TBC…and then raced home to see what the bloggers reported. I recall one blogger who was management, can’t remember the alias, who gave us the “inside scoop” on what senior management was thinking. In Richard Stursberg’s book, released in 2016, he admitted that senior management was going to lock out CMG members in March of 2005. I didn’t know until late Friday, August 12th when a tech told me “it’s probably a lock out or a strike come Monday.” He was right. You’ll be happy to know that the next Collective Agreement included Article 26 “No Strikes or Lockouts” that is still in the current CA with CMG. What a summer it was for me: I broke up with my girlfriend after 8 years, went to Chicago to see the Jays play the Cubs and came home to the lockout. One of my favorite moments was being entertained by Ron Sexsmith and supported by the great Bob White, former head of the auto workers.

    • ilanderz

      I didn’t know about Article 6. So much more sensible. Yes, that does sound like quite a summer for you! Thanks for sharing your memories of that memorable summer!

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