Fab Fabrice does the unfathomable

Fabrice de Pierrebourg

La Presse scored a major coup last week, hiring investigative reporter Fabrice de Pierrebourg, who has been breaking stories for Rue Frontenac since he and 252 others were locked out from the Journal de Montréal in January 2009, a lockout that just marked its 18-month anniversary.

De Pierrebourg was the posterboy for the lockoutés’ argument that the true value of the Journal de Montréal came from hard-working investigative journalists, which their newspaper has replaced with wire stories, freelance opinionators and overhyped reporting from managers.

Henry Aubin named him one of the “watchdogs of democracy” in December for his scoops about city hall and the municipal election campaign. He was just as useful before he got locked out, perhaps best known for breaching security at Trudeau airport to prove a point.

De Pierrebourg was also one of nine employees fired by the Journal for storming the office while locked out – as part of a peaceful but illegal demonstration – in July 2009. While Patrick Lagacé says it’s unrelated (because negotiations began weeks ago), de Pierrebourg tells Rue Frontenac that was the final straw.

The news of de Pierrebourg’s hiring was met with mixed reviews. It’s a huge move for La Presse (though not unprecedented – the guy who made the announcement was himself hired from the Journal de Montréal back in 2006).

And speaking of La Presse, I guess those financial problems that nearly forced them to shut down less than a year ago, until the union made serious concessions, are a thing of the past. Not only did they take on a new high-profile hire, but they’ve made 17 temporary workers permanent. (One of those workers I spoke to had no idea why, though that person wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.)

Aside from being good news for La Presse, de Pierrebourg’s hiring is also good for him. He has a proper job again. The anxiety and stress is gone.

It’s bad news for the Journal de Montréal (at least at first glance), which has lost a solid investigative reporter.

But it’s also bad for Rue Frontenac. And if the comments attached to its story are any indication, his now ex-colleagues are supportive of his escape but still saddened at losing a high-profile member of their cause.

The beginning of the end?

Though I hate to use the term “trend”, I have to wonder about who else might follow in de Pierrebourg’s footsteps. Bertrand Raymond, the most high-profile columnist on the picket lines, announced in January that he would “retire” – and never again return to the Journal.

Raymond has, of course, hardly retired. He writes now for RDS, putting out a column about twice a week on average. Like de Pierrebourg, Raymond has simply found an employer that he can live with.

Both Raymond and de Pierrebourg gave similar reasons for leaving: they couldn’t fathom the idea of going back to work for the Journal de Montréal, for Quebecor and the managers who put them out on the street.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Jean-François Codère, when I interviewed Rue Frontenac’s technology guy in January. I asked him how they would be able to work out their differences with their managers once the conflict ends, and he said he didn’t know. Codère has turned down other job offers to stay at Rue Frontenac, but can he and the rest keep this up forever?

The Journal de Montréal isn’t showing any signs of cracking. It’s still publishing seven days a week (soon it will be the only Montreal newspaper to do so), and so much of the work of producing it is outsourced that they’ve made it seem almost transparent to its readers. (The number of people who have moral objections to reading a newspaper produced during a lockout are far outweighed by people who don’t give a rat’s ass about it.)

De Pierrebourg said he felt bad leaving his colleagues at Rue Frontenac. He should. Not because what he did was wrong, but because whether he wanted to or not his departure hurts the cause of those still locked out.

As this labour conflict drags out into the long term, more departures like this are inevitable. Some who are close to retirement age will just decide to give up. Some who aren’t might take better jobs elsewhere. And as the union’s strike fund starts running out, the rest might not have a choice.

And as the cream of the crop gets poached, what’s left will be those who can’t get jobs elsewhere. Those who work in classified sales or other non-editorial jobs, who have spent decades in a highly specialized function that doesn’t translate well into the job market.

By then, the argument that the Journal is a lesser paper without these people begins to fall apart.

20 thoughts on “Fab Fabrice does the unfathomable

  1. wkh

    Food first ethics later.

    To me the greater “whoa” in this story is how the JdM strike has proved Unions Are Worthless. Seriously. JdM has gone on to publish virtually unimpeded. Actually, totally unimpeded. No one cares except you and people who are too good to read JdM anyway since they think all proper people read at LEAST La Presse and preferably Le Devoir.

    A union had a major strike, went out and founded a new media outlet, and absolutely nothing changed from the place they struck, at all, whatsoever.

    This is scary. And trust me, union based workplaces, not just media, everywhere are watching this. Unions can indeed be killed. Quite easily this seems to prove.

    1. Karine

      The reason the JdeM can go on unimpeded is because it’s incoporated in Canada, not Quebec. That is why they can hire the merceneries they have to keep the paper going, there are no anti-scab provisions under the federal labour laws unlike here in Quebec. But notice how the federal government has allowed this to drag on forever but stepped in swiftly when the Port de Mtl locked out it’s wokers.

      1. sco100

        Sun Media (which owns the Journal) is very much obligated to comply with Quebec labour laws. The thing is all court rulings, bar a couple of minor and meaningless exceptions (eg, the Prevate case) have acknowledged that the Journal’s MO is legit and lawful. From a legal standpoint, there are no scabs involved. You’re of course free to think that the law would need to be revamped to take new transmission technology into account, but that’s really beyond the point. For the time being, it’s all legal.

        Industries that fall under federal jurisdiction are exempted from complying with provincial labour laws, but that doesn’t cover newspapers. And it’s got nothing to do with where your company was registered. It’s strictly a function of where the company operates.

        The Union guys lost just about every court case they launched or faced. They have no legal ammunition left. Their war chest will soon be depleted and their best elements are abandoning ship. They’re probably sewing a white flag as we speak.

    2. Heather H

      WKH. The JdM employees didn’t go on strike. They were locked-out before there was a single chance at contract negociation.

      The paper keeps publishing because of a loophole in Quebec’s anti-scab law.

      1. sco100

        Actually, in this case, it’s no loophole (you could argue that the loophole was to blame for Journal de Québec conflict dragging on, but definitely not here). The QMI Agency that feeds Journal de Montréal is a press agency, just the same as Reuters, AP and the like.

        Their collective labour contract stipulates that only a handful of agencies can provide content (QMI Agency is not one of the agencies listed in that contract); the thing is the contract no longer applies during a lock-out or a strike, and Sun Media can now use any agency it wishes.

        The Union tried to challenge that, but they were quite clearly told by the courts that this was basically a legal dead end and that Sun Media could use QMI Agency freely.

  2. Kate M.

    wkh, not sure you can say that outright. There’s got to be a reason Pierre Karl Péladeau withdrew his paper from the Quebec Press Council: he doesn’t have enough journalists left to do legitimate journalism!

    1. wkh

      He doesn’t care. He’s making a newspaper and selling them. Besides, that brings up the question of “who died and made the QPC the decision maker on who and who isn’t a journalist?” Not that I think they shouldn’t be. But it’s an interesting question.

  3. Karine

    I think your judgment is harsh, I don’t see how turning down the job would help the cause other then show solidarity with the other jounalists, a noble thing to do but stupid if this drags on another year and the resolution may not be worth the effort. PKP won’t lose sleep no matter the decision he would have taken. PP senior must be turning in his grave looking at this situation. Yes it will be too bad for those who won’t be able to go elsewhere but that’s life.

    1. sco100

      He was fired anyway. I think it’s only normal that he would run for the exit and find a new job. Of course, he could always have crossed his fingers and hoped his reintegration would end up being part of a settlement, but that was purely hypothetical in the end.

      It’s true however that his “defection” could be seen as a signal that the whole thing has now geared up to some desperate “each man for himself” mode, a perspective not particularly conducive to the kind of unconditional solidarity unions expect when under attack.

  4. Rogerio Barbosa


    je m’excuse de parler en français mais je suis plus à l’aise dans la langue de Molière et je ne souhaite pas mal exprimé ma pensé en anglais, so my bad.

    La situation au conflit du journal est différente de tous les autres conflits ayant été déclenchés au Québec. Au moment où l’on se parle, le lock-out au Journal de Montréal perdure à cause d’une faille dans la loi anti-scab. Je vais reprendre ici le texte de mon collègue Yves Chartrand de Rue Frontenac:

    “Mise en vigueur le 1er février 1978, la loi anti-scabs avait été parrainée par l’ancien ministre Pierre Marc Johnson dans le gouvernement de René Lévesque. À l’époque, Internet n’existait pas.

    L’interprétation de la loi anti-scabs fait l’objet d’une véritable saga judiciaire depuis que le Syndicat des journalistes du Journal de Québec a porté plainte au Tribunal du travail contre des travailleurs de remplacement durant le lock-out imposé par Quebecor en 2007 et 2008.

    Établissement physique

    Dans son jugement, la commissaire Myriam Bédard avait élargi la notion d’établissement et avait jugé qu’une dizaine de personnes s’étaient rendues coupables de travail de remplacement. Quebecor avait porté le jugement en appel en Cour supérieure, et le juge Saint-Pierre avait renversé ce jugement de première instance.

    Celui-ci avait conclu que, pour être considéré comme un briseur de grève, il fallait se trouver dans l’établissement physique où le conflit avait lieu.

    Le Syndicat des journalistes du Journal de Québec et la FTQ ont contesté le jugement Saint-Pierre et ont porté la cause devant la Cour d’appel du Québec, qui entend toujours la cause.”

    Donc, Quebecor suite à ce jugement, a carte blanche et fait faire le travail qu’occupait 253 membres du syndicat par des journalistes, photographes et personnel de l’agence crée par Quebecor: QMI

    Présentement, le conflit au journal dure à cause de cette situation. Par le passé, tous les contrats de travail ont toujours été négociés de bonne foi. À cause de cette faille dans la loi, le rapport pèse dans la balance en faveur de l’employeur. De plus, étant donné que Quebecor contrôle la moitié des médias au Québec, il se permet également de contrôler le message. Ainsi, aux yeux de la population, les syndiqués trop bien payés, fouteurs de trouble, se plaignent pour rien et devraient perdre leurs jobs…

    Sâchez une chose, ce lock-out n’est pas une simple négociation entre deux parties, c’est l’affrontement entre deux idéologies sur l’avenir des médias opposé l’une à l’autre. Le syndicat ne se bat pas pour avoir plus de gains et d’argent pour ses membres. Le syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal se bat pour préserver la qualité d’information, qu’il a construite au fil des ans.

    Présentement, Le Journal de Montréal est dirigé par une rédactrice en chef, qui par le passé était comptable… C’est peu dire. Pendant que le syndicat cherche à préserver la qualité de l’information, du côté de Quebecor, on gère le journal comme une shop, minimiser les dépenses afin de maximiser les profits.

    Le problème est qu’un journal, ce n’est pas une business comme les autres. Les journaux et les médias sont les derniers chiens de garde de la population et de la démocratie. Pendant des années, journalistes, photographes et personnel au journal, ont été embauchés pour dénoncer les injustices, faire part de situation irréelle, donner son opinion et surtout prendre le pouls du peuple. Maintenant que le lock-out perdure depuis plus de 18 mois, Quebecor cherche à faire taies les personnes qui jadis était payé pour dénoncer ce genre d’injustice… C’est triste et très dur.

    Cependant, les gens continuent de lire le journal, dans les médias tv et radio, on cite encore le journal, dans les restos et cafés, il est partout. C’est normal, le journal est distribué gratuitement, car Quebecor a garanti à ses annonceurs, ceux qui payent le journal, un certain taux de distribution. Donc, au lieu de perdre de l’argent avec les annonceurs, il préfère le donner gratuitement, comme dans des blocs appartements de ville St-Laurent, dans les restos et surtout à monsieur et madame tout le monde qui le reçoit à la maison sans en avoir fait la demande.

    Quebecor n’a mis aucun effort à regeler ce conflit, Quebecor a appris du conflit du Journal de Québec et applique un plan pensé depuis très longtemps.

    La crise des médias ? C’est simplement une excuse, le Journal de Montréal était rentable et l’est toujours, mais ils ne veulent pas montrer leurs chiffres. Le Journal de Montréal n’est pas le New York Times avec leurs 1100 journalistes. Le Journal de Montréal était un journal familial, qui employait 253 syndiqués et qui donnait leur maximum pour faire de ce journal le plus grand quotidien francophone en Amérique.

    Quelle serait la solution ? Une mise à jour dans la loi anti-scab, comprendre que le lieu de travail n’est pas nécessairement le Journal de Montréal lui-même, mais plutôt les lieux de travail, comme une salle de spectacle, un incendie dans une rue ou une partie de hockey au Centre Bell. Internet à changer nos vies, les moyens de communication ont évolué. Journaliste et photographes n’ont plus besoin de se rendre au Journal de Montréal pour donner un texte ou donner ses pellicules photo, ils le font dans leurs lieux de travail grâce à la technologie. Il y a une faille dans la loi qui date de plus de 30 ans…

    Qui sera perdant dans cette histoire Quebecor ? Le Syndicat ? Une chose est sure, au final, c’est la population qui en paiera le prix.

    Je vous invite à lire le texte de Rue Frontenac ICI: http://www.ruefrontenac.com/nouvelles-generales/politiqueprovinciale/25835-jeunes-liberaux-loi-anti-scabs

  5. Kevin

    The JdeM workers would be better off if they gave up and moved on. After all, their jobs have *already* transferred to ‘Agence QMI’ and Sun Media TV News.

    It’s been more than a year and a half since they were locked out. In reality, they were fired en masse and replaced with an agency that provides wire copy to order.

  6. Rogerio Barbosa

    sco100 says:
    July 27, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Actually, in this case, it’s no loophole (you could argue that the loophole was to blame for Journal de Québec conflict dragging on, but definitely not here). The QMI Agency that feeds Journal de Montréal is a press agency, just the same as Reuters, AP and the like.

    Sorry but QMI is not a news agency like Reuters, AP or Canadian Press. No one, except the Quebecor Sun Media network, can have access to QMI pictures, text and stories. As we speak QMI is only an internal text and image bank for the profit of their own network. QMI as no public or private internet access…

    1. sco100

      With all due respect, photos and articles were indeed sold to other media outlets, Canadian as well as foreign, that have nothing to do with Sun Media or Quebecor as a whole.

      I understand why one would want to paint QMI Agency as some rogue outfit set up to harm locked-out Journal employees, but hard facts paint a different picture.

      While I fully realise how it would serve the union guys to have the agency perceived as “scab central,” the bottom line is reality does not agree with that baseless conclusion.

      1. Fagstein Post author

        While I don’t think the sole purpose of QMI Agency is to replace locked-out Journal de Montréal workers, that is what it’s done. One only has to look at what happened with the Journal de Québec to understand the mindset behind this. Rogue news agencies started up and offered work to the newspaper as its journalists were locked out. The labour board determined that these people were acting as scabs (in a decision that was later overturned by the court).

        1. sco100

          From what I understand, Quebecor had been planning to leave the Canadian Press, and leverage its own resources instead, for quite a while (which makes sense when you own nearly 300 newspapers and magazines). Besides, it was common knowledge that the Canadian Press was trying to find a buyer and shed its status as a coop.

          Journal de Montréal employees seem to think of themselves as living on an island fortress. In reality, they’re part of the Sun Media nebula, and it’s probably time they acknowledge that. That won’t change any time soon.

          The Agency has obviously become a major news provider for the Journal, but I believe that must have been the long-term plan all along. Before the lock-out, however, Journal workers resisted the idea of pooling content. Once they were locked out, the coast was clear to roll out the new business plan since the collective agreement, now suspended, was no longer an obstacle. The union should have seen that coming; they have lawyers galore, don’t they?

          So, yeah, I agree, the end result is that the Journal now gets much of its content from the Agency, but then so do quite a few Sun Media papers or TVA Publishing magazines. We’re not talking about codenamed shadow employees operating out of some secret basement; we’re talking about a whole new business model that the Courts deemed legal. Didn’t Canwest adopt the same approach a couple of years ago?

          It just makes good business sense. I don’t understand why the union chose to sit on the sidelines and launch ill-advised court cases while the new machine was being assembled; they’re missing the chance to shape the future. Technological leaps have enabled media conglomerates to set up a new collegiality, and there’s no place for islands in that new world.

  7. Jimmy John

    One hopes that this dispute is the thin wedge in opening up Quebec’s economy to a non union productive future. But I doubt it.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      One hopes that this dispute is the thin wedge in opening up Quebec’s economy to a non union productive future. But I doubt it.

      I take it you feel unionized workers are unproductive. Do you have evidence to back that up?

        1. Fagstein Post author

          1. Not all unionized workers are city blue-collar workers.
          2. Do you actually know how blue-collars operate, or are you basing your opinion on the stereotype perpetuated by overhyped articles in the Journal de Montréal?

      1. Kevin

        Oh c’mon. My first job out of university, a union VP told me to slow down, I was working too fast, I was making other employees look bad.

        I know unionized shophands who have refused to do their job because it was time for their scheduled break. Then when they came back 2 hours later and found out someone had moved a couch because they weren’t around, spend the next day and a half writing up a complaint.

        Earlier this year, one of my co-workers spent 4 hours getting a tire changed on a company vehicle (ie sitting on his ass while waiting for mechanics to work). He came back to the office, and when his manager wanted him to go out and do some work, he refused, saying it was time for him to eat lunch.

        I have no problems with unions fighting for the rights of their members. The problem is when unions are obstructionist, seek to actively thwart people from doing their job efficiently, and protect incompetent employees who *should* be fired.


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