Journal de Québec lockout battle is over – and the employees lost

One of the first big stories I followed with this blog was the lockout at the Journal de Québec. It started in April 2007, when this blog was two months old, and ended in the summer of 2008 with the workers accepting a deal. While people will remember the Rue Frontenac project as one that changed the way labour (and particularly media-related labour) should react to conflicts, the idea for it came from MédiaMatinQuébec, a free daily newspaper distributed by locked-out Journal de Québec workers.

In reality, both Quebecor and the unions learned from that conflict, lessons that were used when the much more bitter Journal de Montréal lockout began in January 2009.

Even after the conflict was over in Quebec City, the legal battle continued. The union complained that Quebecor was using scab labour in the form of independent third parties to produce its news. Quebecor was taking advantage of a loophole in the law, written for an era where people walked into factories to build things as their jobs, that defined scabs only as those people who enter the workplace to do work of locked-out or striking workers.

In December 2008, the union won a decision by the labour board, which redefined the meaning of “workplace” to include anywhere someone does their job, and not the physical building where offices are.

But Quebecor appealed to the Quebec Superior Court, and in September 2009, it overturned the labour board decision, keeping the workplace definition as it was and ruling that the third-party employees were not, in fact, scabs.

The union appealed that decision to the Quebec court of appeal, which dismissed it last September. It appealed again all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which on Thursday ruled it would not take the case. It was on a list of cases dismissed, with costs.

The union was, naturally, profoundly disappointed.

The next step for union supporters is legislative. The Quebec government came under a lot of pressure during the Journal de Montréal lockout to update the law forbidding strikebreakers. But after the JdeM lockout was over, that pressure disappeared.

It remains to be seen if this decision will bring that pressure back or if it will take another major labour conflict to bring it back to the forefront.

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