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Torstar makes tentative agreement with union over digital journalists

TORONTO - Torstar Corp. (TSX:TS.B) has struck a tentative agreement with the union that represents journalists at the Toronto Star over the classification of new digital journalist jobs.

Unifor said Monday in a bulletin to members at Torstar that the compromise allows the company to "experiment" with its digital strategy until the expiry of the existing contract at the end of 2016.

The most recent digital job postings will be considered temporary positions with lower paying starting wages for the duration of the agreement, the union said.

The deal provides a short-term resolution to concerns expressed by Toronto Star reporters over a proposed two-tiered status separating online reporters from the rest of the company's journalists.

"Strategically we just thought it was a better idea to create a temporary arrangement that will last for the duration of the contract," said Liz Marzari, a representative for the Star at Unifor Local 87-M, in an interview.

"It's not a perfect deal, but it's a compromised deal."

As part of the agreement, existing staff in editorial staff will have the opportunity to move into the digital jobs as part of "bumping rights."

Meanwhile, a working committee of newsroom staff, management and employees from Torstar's digital operations will create a committee to focus on the company's digital capabilities and training, Marzari said. At the same time, Torstar will withdraw digital reporter job postings and any new reporters hired will join the editorial department.

A statement issued by Toronto Star publish John Cruickshank said the agreement "allows us to move forward with the continued transformation of the Star's newsroom for an increasingly digital age, through the addition of new skills and talents in digitally focused roles."

"These new digital classifications will be designated as temporary, and will remain as such until a new collective agreement is negotiated and ratified. They will be paid at market rates, allowing the Star to compete with both new and legacy media organizations."

Meanwhile, Cruickshank said the company had reached an agreement with the union to provide additional incentives to newsroom staff approaching retirement "who may wish to explore their options."

Under the new special retirement program, eligible union-represented, retirement-age newsroom staff can apply to retire and receive "a substantial additional incentive, based on their years of tenure with the Star," he said.

"Two separate application windows will be available as part of the SRP, the first of which will run over this summer period. Individuals who apply during that first application window will be eligible to apply for a phased retirement, which enables eligible individuals to ease into retirement over a period of time while still maintaining full benefit plan coverage."

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