The notice from the union was in my mailbox when I came in today: The Gazette and its workers union, the Montreal Newspaper Guild, have reached an agreement concerning workers in the Reader Sales and Service department whose jobs are being outsourced to a Canwest call centre in Winnipeg.
The deal essentially turns the layoffs into forced buyouts, with a deal similar to what many in the editorial department took in January. It comes after the union lost a bid to merge the RSS bargaining unit with the editorial and advertising ones, which would have leveraged the power of the latter to save the former.
It’s sad that the jobs are going, and that people calling about their morning paper are going to speak to a minimum-wage call centre guy on the night shift in Winnipeg than someone in the Gazette building who knows about the paper and the city and actually cares about readers.
What, one wonders, is going to happen to readers who do not get their paper?
What about the caller who, being asked what part of town he lives in, answers “Cote-des-Neiges” or, better yet, “Snowdon” or “NDG”? Even if the clerk has access to a map of the Greater Montreal area, there is no way that he will be able to find Snowdon or NDG on the map. They aren’t on the map because they do not exist as legal entitities.
The real problem, though, comes with the English-French issue, in all of its glorious permutations and combinations.
For more years than I can remember, publishers and editors have proudly informed the staff at various meetings that a considerable number of francophones read the paper.
So I can just see it now:
(spoken with broad Quebecois accent; some of the words are spelled the way they are actually pronounced in Quebec): “Ben coudonc, tsi, qu’est-ce qui arrive? J’ai pas recu mon journal aujourd’hui, pantoute. Vouzzette une bande de caves, la-bas, ou kwey?”
You can just see the Winnipeg call-centre’s person’s jaw dropping.
Another problem is that there are streets with two different pronunciations of the same name, depending on which language you are speaking (just contrast the English pronounciation of Guy (street) with the French one).
To make it even worse, there are streets with two entirely different names, depending on the language.
Let’s take, as an example, an apartment building which actually exists at 1400 Pine Ave. W.
Let’s assume that something has happened and no-one in the building receives The Gazette on a given day.
When Mr. Smith makes his complaint, he tells the clerk that he lives at 1400 Pine Ave. W., with a given postal code.
Two minutes later, Mr. Brown calls up and, unfortunately, is connected to the same clerk.
Now, let’s assume that Mr. Brown, who is just as passionately an Anglophone as Mr. Smith — neither has ever gone to see the St. Jean Baptiste parade in sixty years of living in Montreal — has nevertheless integrated the French name of the street into his mind.
(How is that possible, you say? Well, it happens.)
So Mr. Brown tells the clerk that he lives at 1400 Ouest, Avenue des Pins.
That’s fine — until Mr. Brown gives him the postal code.
But Mr. Brown’s postal code is the same as Mr. Smith’s.
Impossible, thinks the clerk to himself — these two men live on different streets but have the same postal code?
Something mighty fishy here, the clerk thinks.
Of course, most Montrealers would understand what is going on.
The guy in Winnipeg does not.
The ultimate example, though, is Pie IX.
Imagine a customer who lives on that street, has not received The Gazette and and pronounces the name in the French way.
Sorry, says the clerk, how do you spell that name, please?
Ah, here we have the makings of a major blow-up on the telephone.
How do you spell the name of Pie IX to an Anglophone? Although the Anglophone may have learned French, nothing has prepared him for this situation.
Well, what would you do?
The first word — the “Pie” — is no problem. Sure, the clerk would be momentarily puzzled — why are you pronouncing this word as “pee” when it out to be pronounced, surely, as the English word “pie”?
The real test, though, comes with the second word in the name.
Now if you pronounce Pie IX in the French way, the IX is pronounced as Neuf. That, of course, is exactly what the name is — it’s the name of Pope Pius the Ninth, but with the word “Ninth” spelled in Roman numerals, the same way we do it in English — in The Gazette, he would be referred to as Pope Pius IX, not Pope Pius the Ninth..
So you ought to spell the name as n-e-u-f?
But, of course, that is not what the name of the street is.
If the clerk tries to find the name Pie Neuf on his map, he won’t be able to find it.
On the other hand, if you tell the clerk that the word which he has understood, as an Anglophone, as sounding like “neuf” or “noof” or “newf”, is actually spelled with the letters “IX”, that clerk is, quite understandably, going to think: “Yo, I am talking with a total nutbar! Whaaaaaaaaat! You want me to believe that IX is pronounced as ‘newf’?”
Yes, it’s going to be fun.
Actually, though, it won’t be fun for The Gazette, whose circulation is going to drop even further.
But, hey, why worry?
Canwest Global is saving money and, after all, folks, that is what counts, ain’t it?
The readers? Aw, who cares about them?
I think a bigger problem isn’t so much the language issue (though I’m sure francophones will be poorly served by this outsourced CanWest centre), but the fact that their calls will be handed by unskilled minimum-wage workers who aren’t paid to care about them and probably have never read The Gazette in their lives.
Get ready to be served with the same amount of courtesy as you’ll get at the McDonald’s take-out window.