Journal de Montréal lockout by the numbers

Two years. 24 months. 730 days. 17,520 hours. 1.05 million minutes. 63 million seconds.

These are the figures in the Journal de Montréal lockout that are not in dispute. On Jan. 24, just after midnight, it celebrated – perhaps that’s a bad choice of word – its second anniversary.

But the number that’s drilled into everyone’s head is 253. That’s the number of employees that were officially locked out that day. The number is repeated over and over by the union, which refers to 253 families on the street, 253 people without jobs, 253 people working at Rue Frontenac. Some people only partially familiar with the conflict (the ones who use “lockout” and “strike” interchangeably”) even refer to “253 journalists”, unaware that the lockout also affects dozens of office staff.

Raynald Leblanc, the president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal, admits that 253 is a “symbolic” number. The list of lockoutés has 253 names on it, but many of those people – about 10% – are no longer contributing to the cause and no longer receive cheques from the strike fund. About 10, including columnist Bertrand Raymond, have decided to retire. Most of the others are still leaving open the option of coming back to work for the Journal, but are not receiving cheques either because they have found another job or because, Leblanc says, they are rich enough that they don’t need the money. Only two have officially resigned.

The law, Leblanc says, is clear that even those who have taken jobs elsewhere to pay the bills can come back once the conflict is over. Of course, it will be their choice, and some who have since moved on will probably choose to stay in their new jobs, if there’s even a job at the Journal to go back to.

Note: Numbers above might be off slightly, take them as estimates

Among the 230 people still “active” in the conflict, the level of that activity varies. There are some, like journalists Gabrielle Duchaine and Jean-François Codère, who are filing stories on a regular basis for Rue Frontenac, the website and newspaper setup as a pressure tactic and public relations campaign. There are some who contribute more occasionally to Rue Frontenac. And there are many, like the 31 people who work in classified ad sales, whose skills aren’t really that transferrable. Many of those can be found on the picket lines outside the Journal de Montréal offices, or in newly created jobs like running the Rue Frontenac cafeteria. And there are some who have disappeared off the map completely for whatever reason.

For Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Quebecor CEO whose company owns the Journal, the 253 figure is fiction. He breaks the numbers down another way. For him, the number of permanent employees “active” in the conflict is only 179, discounting 45 contract employees and 29 people who have retired or otherwise quit their jobs. In the latest offer to the union, 52 of those people would continue to have jobs (among them only 17 journalists), and 127 jobs would be eliminated, but 31 of those employees are eligible for retirement.

Leblanc, at 57 years old, is one of those who could leave and start taking their pensions. But he asks rhetorically: “are we obliged to take retirement just because we’re eligible?” The answer, of course, is no. Some people need more money and aren’t financially stable enough to retire. And to Leblanc, forced retirement isn’t much different from forced unemployment.

And so, as Year 3 of the Journal de Montréal lockout begins, and negotiations haven’t given us any news recently, we wonder how long this conflict will last.

When it started in 2009, the union bragged that it had a two-year strike fund, enough to pay its employees about 70% of their salary (tax free) until 2011. Asked about that two weeks ago, Leblanc was categorical: “It won’t run out.”

I asked him where that guarantee comes from. He said it was from other unions. The CSN has made an example of this conflict and will keep putting money into it until it’s over. They are determined not to lose this battle over money alone.

With both CSN and Quebecor having seemingly endless pits of reserve cash, the idea that one side could wait it out until the other had been brought to its knees financially has been exposed as a pipe dream.

A parliamentary committee will be holding hearings into this conflict next month. Which is good, because left to their own devices, it seems both sides are content to let this drag on forever.

Two years on: Media coverage

The various local media have noted the two-year anniversary with stories, among them:

and simple to-the-point stories from CBC, CTV, TVAPresse Canadienne, Agence France-Presse, Projet J and, of course, Rue Frontenac itself.

UPDATE (Feb. 1): A great story in Concordia’s The Link about the human cost of the lockout, talking to people including caricaturist Marc Beaudet.

14 thoughts on “Journal de Montréal lockout by the numbers

  1. Alex H

    Steve, while I can understand that this is something that is near and dear to your heart, I think that you need to come up for air and understand that things aren’t going back to the way they were even 2 years ago.

    Start at “the bottom” and work your way up: Classified ads. kijiji, craigslist, and many other free ads websites are eating the individual classified business up, making that segement very low end. While 10 years ago classified was a big winner and a major source of income for almost any newspaper, it is now slowly sinking, supported most by discounted commercial postings. Individual ads are getting rarer and rarer. Why pay when there are so many free alternatives?

    Photographers? Heck, back in the day of actual film, I sold images to the Gazoo, JdeM, La Presse and even Allo Police. But now the market is gone. Replace that with “mon topo” style amateur shots (free!), and still frames pulled from your pool HD video cameras (QMI anyone?), and your reasons to have so many photographers on staff goes away.

    Journalists? Again, with convergence in the marketplace, is there a reason to have 30 journalists working at each newspaper, and a similar number again on TV, Radio, and other peroperties? Not needed anymore. That has gone, replaced by pool reporters, by QMI, and other methods to avoid having people re-writing them same story over and over again.

    I could go on. Reality is that even 2 years ago, the writing was already on the wall: There is no way to justify the way the business was being run, the staffing levels, and the costs of doing things that way. The modern world was already creeping in, and in the 2 years since, things have moved even faster. From smart phones to Ipads, to super high speed internet, people are getting their news in different ways. Quebecor has to be able to move in these new directions without being blocked by union agreements that hard set job descriptions and uses for long periods of time. In a world that moves quickly, Unions are the speed bumps and barricades that can kill an industry.

    It is doubtful that Quebecor will settle in any other way past what they offered. They don’t need to. QMI works, JdeM readership is up, and the bottom line on these sorts of businesses are better as a result. Now all it takes is for the labor unions to wake and realize it’s 2011, not 1911, and things might actually get resolved.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I think that you need to come up for air and understand that things aren’t going back to the way they were even 2 years ago.

      Nobody expects all 253 people to return to work, or anything close to that. Not even the workers themselves.

      Not needed anymore. That has gone, replaced by pool reporters, by QMI, and other methods to avoid having people re-writing them same story over and over again.

      That makes sense, assuming you think all these publications should be publishing the same stories. If we’re really talking about efficiency, why have so many different brands pumping out the same content in different packaging?

      There is no way to justify the way the business was being run, the staffing levels, and the costs of doing things that way.

      Except for the fact that the Journal de Montréal was profitable that way.

      In a world that moves quickly, Unions are the speed bumps and barricades that can kill an industry.

      You can argue that, but the unions would disagree, arguing that a well treated, unionized workforce improves morale and productivity. This particular one would also point out that it has a website and an iPhone app, and isn’t in any way against using new technology.

      Reply
      1. Alex H

        “You can argue that, but the unions would disagree, arguing that a well treated, unionized workforce improves morale and productivity”

        Let’s start there. 30 hour work weeks, flex time, 6 week vacations, high pay (88-150k a year), sick leave without justification needed, and so on. They weren’t well treated, they had set up a kingdom over time, creating a workers paradise. I wish I could work 30 hours a week, take a month and a half off, and get 100k for doing it. Damn I would be happy. That isn’t happening. Worse, they were pushing in the past for work rules that would not allow for work done for one paper to be used in any other way, forcing JdeM to hire more staff to re-write what would appear on their websites and other media.

        “That makes sense, assuming you think all these publications should be publishing the same stories. If we’re really talking about efficiency, why have so many different brands pumping out the same content in different packaging?”

        No, the efficiencies are found by not duplicating efforts. If you are going to shoot high quality video of a story scene (say a fire), doesn’t it make sense to just take a still from the video footage for the print or online story of the event? How many different people need to write about a fire? More importantly, how many people do you need to send to the scene? Should Quebecor send a JdeM reporter, a TVA reporter, a Metro reporter, a TVAnouvelles.com reporter, a JdeM online reporter (each with a camerman or photographer) to cover the scene? Are we somehow better served by this? At some point, needless duplication is just needless duplication.

        “Nobody expects all 253 people to return to work”

        Based on the current situation, they should count themselves lucky if any of them return to work. Getting 50 jobs back would be great, considering that most of them are remarkably redundant now.

        I know this one cuts close for you. The sad reality now is that stand alone media is just not happening anymore, not on the scale it was. Media has moved to being multi-media, with multiple delivery paths. Even in the two years these people have been on lockout, things have changed dramatically. The issues that were there 2 years ago have already be OTBE, and have rendered even more of them obsolete. It sucks, I know, but things have changed. Unions want to stay put, they want their cushy jobs, their high pay, and their outstanding bennies. That just isn’t realistic anymore.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Let’s start there. 30 hour work weeks, flex time, 6 week vacations, high pay (88-150k a year), sick leave without justification needed, and so on. They weren’t well treated, they had set up a kingdom over time, creating a workers paradise.

          The workers have already resigned themselves to the fact that their work weeks will get longer. That’s not a major issue. As for pay, the union argues that the figures making the rounds are maximums and few employees make near that much. Besides, Quebecor isn’t actually demanding pay cuts in its settlement offers.

          If you are going to shoot high quality video of a story scene (say a fire), doesn’t it make sense to just take a still from the video footage for the print or online story of the event?

          It makes sense if you don’t care about the quality of the photo. Still photography and video require different techniques. But for a tiny story nobody’s going to care about in 12 hours, yes it makes sense not to waste too many resources on it.

          Should Quebecor send a JdeM reporter, a TVA reporter, a Metro reporter, a TVAnouvelles.com reporter, a JdeM online reporter (each with a camerman or photographer) to cover the scene?

          Quebecor owns 24 Heures, not Metro. But a fire is a bad example here because it’s not an important story. You can’t really get in depth about a fire.

          Your point about having all these different media outlets share journalists makes sense. But my point is this: Why have all these different media outlets in the first place? Why have 7 jours if it’s going to be identical to the Journal de Montréal’s arts section? Why publish two newspapers in Montreal – one paid and the other free – if they’re both going to have the same content?

          When Quebecor bought these publications and broadcasters, they promised they would remain editorially independent. Now they’re arguing that it makes no sense to have them be independent.

          Reply
          1. Alex H

            While a fire isn’t a best example, my personal past experience (late 80s, early 90s) was that each media outlet would send it’s own team to cover. Overnight, that might only be a cameraman, but if it happened during the day and was a major enough fire (4 alarms or better) you would see reporters, camera people, and so on trundling along. That was “peak news” in Montreal, with plenty of players in print and on the air. You would see from the Gazoo, JdeM, LaPresse, CFCF, TQS, TVA, and CBC (often the CBC sending two crews, one english, and one french to the same story), and so on. It was quite funny.

            I have shot both still and video, and while they have different requirements, a video shooter with a good HD camera now can shoot video that turns to very decent stills. Remember, in print you are still only looking at maybe 200 dpi or so, right? It isn’t exactly high end. HD video shoots better than that, good enough for most people. I wouldn’t think of it as a cover shot for a magazine, but for newspapers, well…

            As for the hours and conditions, let’s just say that the employees lived for many years in paradise. Most of the rest of us slobs would kill for those sorts of work conditions. Most of us would be VERY flexible to adjustments to maintain most of our paradise.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              You would see from the Gazoo, JdeM, LaPresse, CFCF, TQS, TVA, and CBC (often the CBC sending two crews, one english, and one french to the same story), and so on. It was quite funny.

              That actually annoys me too, this duplication of coverage. You see it every day when a radio or TV station sees a story in the paper and decides to do the same story, interview the same people. It’s lazy and adds nothing to the public discourse. It’s particularly useless online, where a search will find many copies (sometimes dozens) of that same story.

              But the QMI solution doesn’t solve the duplication. It merely makes it more cost-efficient. Rather than have two journalists do the same story, they have one journalist do the story and then print it multiple times. Rather than each publication having its own angle, competing to look at the issue more in depth, or even forgetting the story entirely and deciding to assign its journalist to work on something unique, we see the same content in multiple publications.

              I’m not opposed in principle to the idea of setting up an internal wire service to share content. What bothers me is when they then fire a bunch of journalists and replace them with that copied content. Particularly in cases where you have publications and broadcasters who, in theory, should be competing against each other.

              Reply
          2. Alex H

            I can’t help but think that the number of journalists invited back to JdeM in the last (refused) offer was to do exactly that, have the stories that don’t need any in depth reporting, such as a fire, and instead to allow the few remaining journlists to actually do more in depth stuff, to actually chase down the unique feature stories that make each paper work. A fire doesn’t typically need much, location, number of people injured or dead, approximate cost, number of firemen on scene, and occassionally a “smoke – fire – firemen” picture if it merits it. Perhaps an in depth after the fact if there is more to the story.

            I could see the JdeM going down that road, feature writers maybe to write the cover story, the feature stories, and pretty much let QMI content directly fill the rest of the paper. I just don’t think that this vision is in line with what the Union wants.

            Reply
    2. John

      Well of course QMI works — it’s an agency full of scabs set up explicitly by Quebecor to replace in-house reporters! The only reason it’s allowed is because scab law in Quebec was set up with the ridiculous clause that you are not allowed to bring people into the same building and use the same equipment as your turfed employees.

      That’s a law that’s seriously out of date.

      Reply
      1. Alex H

        Actaully, QMI isn’t full of scabs: It’s full of people more than willing to do the work for less money and under work rules that are more beneficial to the employer. All this while providing content to more than one Quebecor media outlet, allowing them to get more news out to more people in more places at the same time.

        The only thing that is seriously out of date is employees getting paid full time wages to do part time jobs (30 hours a week plus minimum 6 weeks off, plus high sick day counts, etc) and doing it in a work rule set that doesn’t encourage collaboration, rather than encourages “not my job” mentality and compartmentalization of work. QMI is a reset of everything that has gotten so far out of hand.

        Times are a’changing. Time for the Unions to get with the program.

        Reply
        1. John

          I respectfully disagree.

          I have no problem with a company demanding more from its employees — and I have no problem with employees to unite — but it’s a debate that belongs at a negotiation table.

          It is tough to change work habits — but look at CBC, which is going through a multi-year internal restructuring so that radio/TV/internet cooperate and collaborate. It can be done.

          You don’t want your top employees to get 30 hour work weeks? Fine by me — but you cannot lock them out and hire replacements, which is what Quebecor has done.

          QMI reporters aren’t just providing short items — in today’s issue there are several full-page articles of reporting and analysis, all by QMI. If you removed all the QMI content from the JdeM, you’d be left with a newspaper as thin as the West Island Chronicle.

          Some of that info gets handed off to TVA and LCN (and their websites) but realistically, QMI is a wholly-owned and operated agency whose main task is to fit through a legal loophole to replace JdeM reporters.

          The only thing that separates QMI employees from the legal definition of a scab worker is that they never set foot in the JdeM offices. Well guess what? It hasn’t been necessary for any reporter — TV, radio or print — to set foot in ‘the office’ for more than a decade. Technology has made the office obsolete for any employer who wishes to eliminate it.

          Reply
          1. Alex H

            But John, don’t you realize that you just made Quebecor’s case for them? The news business changed and has been changed for “more than a decade”. There is no reason to have a huge collection of high priced talent jammed into a “pit” jamming out stories on battered IBM selectric typewriters or in front of glowing green CRT terminals. That age is gone, done, over with. Things have moved on, and the work rules, conditions, and restrictions that have piled up over the last 30 or 40 years at places like JdeM is not longer relevant or needed to make the business run.

            QMI proves conclusively that there are plenty of people out there more than willing to do the work of behind journalists for a whole lot less than the JdeM staff was getting, and do a good job of it, and do it with work rules that allow the content to flow from one service to another. At the end of the day, readership of the JdeM is up, not down, which even suggests that what is produced by QMI and other sources for the paper is more desirable than what was there before.

            When I see people whining because they might actually have to work a 5th day of the week, or that they might be forced up to a mind numbing 35 hours a week (see the fight at Quebec’s Le Soleil), I cannot manage to get any sympathy for them at all. They really should just count their lucky stars that for however many years they have been there, that they have been profiting from insanely good working conditions that are unrealistic and not in line with the experience of others. QMI is the “reset switch” for Quebecor, the only way within the labor laws that allows the company to actually change it’s fundamental business model besides closing the doors.

            Reply
  2. Fassero

    I just chuckle at the whole thing. On the one hand, Quebecor plays hardball with a bunch of their employees and their union. On the other, here’s Quebecor looking for 90 cents of government money for each 10 they’ll put up themselves so they can get a sports property of their own in Quebec City with guys like Gilles Duceppe, of all people, going to bat for them (has CSN figured this out yet?)

    If Harper and/or Charest said “no strike resolution, no money”, you mark my words this lockout is over in about 15 minutes and every worker let go would be getting the severance package to end all severance packages…

    Reply

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