Negotiations that spanned 18 months and two owners have finally produced new contracts for two CWA Canada Locals that represent workers at the Victoria Times Colonist.

The four-year agreement, which will expire Jan. 2, 2015, includes wage boosts of 1.0 per cent in 2013 and 1.5 per cent in 2014, plus a $250 signing bonus in lieu of retroactive increases.

“We lost nothing,” says a jubilant Chris Carolan, president of the Victoria-Vancouver Island Newspaper Guild (VVING).

“While the gains are modest,” says CWA Canada Director Martin O’Hanlon, “the fact that they avoided concessions in the current newspaper climate is very significant.”

The previous contract, which expired at the start of 2011, had been negotiated when the daily newspaper was owned by Canwest. The chain’s newspapers were acquired by Postmedia Network when Canwest became insolvent. Negotiations with Postmedia began in May 2011, but reached an impasse last September when the employer attempted to reintroduce significant items the joint bargaining council believed had been removed.

Shortly thereafter, Postmedia sold the Colonist to Glacier Media, which publishes more than 60 community newspapers, primarily in Western Canada.

Carolan says it became obvious after a meeting earlier this year between the three unions and Orest Smysnuik, the company’s chief financial officer, that Glacier Media was interested in reaching a fair agreement that both sides could live with.

When bargaining resumed, “we accomplished more in three days than we did in the previous 18 months, which tells us our new employer is eager to grow the company at the local level, rather than offshore,” says Carolan.

Members of VVING, which represents 153 employees in editorial, advertising, circulation, maintenance, information technology and business departments, voted 96 per cent in favour of ratifying the tentative agreement. Members of British Columbia Local 30404, which represents 35 workers in the mailroom, voted 92 per cent in favour. Members of CEP, which represents workers in composing and the pressroom, also voted with large majorities to accept the deal.

Carolan and O’Hanlon had expressed their “cautious optimism” in a news release welcoming the ownership change a year ago, saying they were “heartened by statements Glacier has made in the past about quality journalism.” Glacier had lamented in an annual report that “the demise of many North American newspaper and media companies has in part been self-inflicted. The Internet has been a factor, but the reduction of content and quality through continual cost cutting has played a significant role.”

Paul Godfrey, CEO of Postmedia, which has slashed jobs and sacrificed quality at all of its metro dailies in order to service a huge debt load, told the Globe and Mail the Victoria paper’s union rules were also a motivator for the sale. (Their contract prevents outsourcing services such as pagination.) He claimed that employees hadn’t bought into the company’s “Digital First philosophy.”

Carolan countered at the time that his members simply objected to the centralization of pagination in Hamilton and ad production in the Phillippines: “We bought into Digital First, we just didn’t buy into shipping our jobs to Manila, Dominican Republic, Hamilton, Calgary, etc.”

He observes now that “the atmosphere for the most part at the negotiating table with Glacier was a pleasant surprise compared to the earlier negotiations when Postmedia was our owner.

“We also understand that our industry is changing at a rapid pace and we believe we can work with the company within the parameters of our newly signed four-year collective agreement to address any concerns that may occur.”