Tag Archives: labour

Halifax Chronicle Herald strike begins with bitterness on both sides

It’s been a while since we had a good old-fashioned newspaper labour conflict in this country.

On Friday night, the Halifax Chronicle Herald entered one as the union and its 61 workers went on strike to avoid severe cuts the company said it would impose. This despite the fact that the union had offered concessions — including wage decreases — at the bargaining table.

J-Source has background on the issues here.

And today, as union members walked the picket lines and encouraged people to unsubscribe to the paper and boycott its advertisers, 18 of its members received layoff notices, and seven of them additional offers to return to work in non-union positions with different working conditions. (The CEO explains in this memo sent to those who weren’t laid off.)

The Herald plans to continue publishing, using managers, but also some more creative ways of getting around the union. It has an agreement with Brunswick News to provide copy that might appeal to a Nova Scotia audience, and it has reportedly approached students and others to act as freelancers during the strike.

The Halifax Typographical Union is active on its Twitter account, with bitter comments about the newspaper’s management. The newspaper also got a bit snippy today:


And Herald president and CEO Mark Lever has been responding to some critics on Twitter, though judging from the replies he’s getting he’s not a very popular person.

On the CH website, they’ve so far played it safe and posted Canadian Press coverage of the strike, which is a good practice in general for media reporting on themselves. (It might help if they posted that story anywhere on their homepage.)

You only need to look at the Journal de Québec and Journal de Montréal lockouts to know that they can lead to a lot of resentment. Even if a deal is reached here, the Chronicle Herald may never be the same.

UPDATE (Jan. 24): The layoff notices have been suspended.

Not just the big guys

One thing I should note about this: The Halifax Chronicle Herald is an independent newspaper. (It’s described as Canada’s largest independent daily, which is true only if you ignore the Globe and Mail, La Presse and the Winnipeg Free Press.)

Those who blame the media’s problems entirely on consolidation should remember that the Chronicle Herald, CHCH TV, the Hudson Gazette and other independent media are also feeling the squeeze.

Speaking of which, the Nanaimo Daily News, owned by the Black Press, just announced it’s shutting down next week.

The Journal de Montréal lockout, five years later

This entry has been corrected. See below.

Rue Frontenac's newsroom in 2011

Rue Frontenac’s newsroom in 2011

It was early in the morning on Saturday, Jan 24, 2009, when the Journal de Montréal changed forever. After an agreement with its union not to engage in work disruptions expired, management locked out all 253 unionized employees, starting a battle that would last more than two years.

The union, knowing this was coming, simultaneously launched a new website called Rue Frontenac, in which locked-out journalists would continue doing their jobs, showing readers that it’s the journalists, not the logo, that really matters.

The solidarity among locked-out workers was impressive, as was their dedication to their craft. But the union’s hefty strike fund kept their income going, and that wasn’t going to last forever.

When it all ended in 2011, the victory went more to the Journal than to the workers. The deal, approved during a heated meeting of the union’s members, meant only a quarter of those locked-out would be re-hired. The rest would split a $20-million severance package.

The deal allowed Rue Frontenac to stay alive, spun off from the union into an independent entity. It was eventually sold, but the staff quickly quit and pulled all their content in protest after learning the identity of someone connected to the new owner and finding that they would pose a threat to their journalistic integrity. The pulled content was eventually posted to a new archival website. RueFrontenac.com now simply redirects to another website owned by that new owner, La Métropole.

Where are they now?

The union treated “253” as a magical number throughout the lockout, but the reality was it was a lot more complicated than that. The employees consisted of people from various departments, some were part-time, some temporary, some on leave for various reasons. I don’t have a list of those 253 people, nor the time to contact them all, but I was curious where the journalists ended up five years later (and more than two years after Rue Frontenac ended).

Of all the journalists that were locked out of the Journal, only one two news reporters — Daniel Renaud and Isabelle Maher — returned after the lockout. (Other departments like sports and photo had more people come back.) The conflict had become so bitter, and the journalists so disgusted with its resolution, that the reaction to the offer to come back was more “over my dead body” than “yes please”.

And Renaud didn’t last long. He now works for La Presse.

The result was that even though the lockout was started so that the Journal could lay off staff, and even though the resolution meant much of that staff wouldn’t come back, the end result is that the paper had to actually start hiring journalists.

What about the rest? Many are still in journalism, and some have moved on to other things. Here’s a partial list, some based off of this list that Michel Rousseau put together for Trente in 2012:

Still at the Journal de Montréal

La Presse (Gesca) was the biggest beneficiary of Rue Frontenac talent:


Le Devoir


TC Media

Cogeco Nouvelles

Other media


Public relations or other communications media


  • Richard Bousquet, lecturer at UQAM
  • Jean-Guy Fugère, math teacher

Other non-media jobs

  • Mélanie Brisson, IT coordinator, city of Sainte-Julie
  • Jérôme Dussault, crown prosecutor
  • Dominic Fugère, general manager of the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières (also contributes to RDS)
  • Guy Madore, real estate
  • Noée Murchison, Office des personnes handicapées du Québec


  • Luc Laforce
  • François Robert
  • Michel Sénécal


  • Pablo Durand

Some of these could easily be outdated, incorrect, miscategorized or incomplete. And I’m missing a bunch of names. Let me know of any corrections below or by email.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said that Daniel Renaud was the only news reporter to go back to the Journal de Montréal. Isabelle Maher also returned to the paper after the lockout. I’ve also updated titles and added names based on people’s suggestions.

Journal de Québec reaches four-year deals with unions

There will be four more years of labour peace at the Journal de Québec.

Sun Media announced on Friday that it has reached labour deals with three unions at the Quebec City newspaper, representing printing, office and editorial workers, each lasting four years.

The press release doesn’t give details, but FM93, which reported on the deals on Thursday, says the employees made some serious concessions, including virtually eliminating the four-day work week for those who still had it, reducing compensation for personal car use on the job, and reducing the workforce by 10-15 jobs (out of a total of 175) through voluntary departures.

Nevertheless, the deal was met with strong support from the unions, with 85% support from editorial and even higher from the other two. The fact that no one will be forced out of jobs for another four years seems to be the big selling point.

Financially, the SCFP union reports there will be pay increases, but only starting in 2015. After a freeze for next year, pay will go up 1% in 2015, 1.5% in 2016 and 1.5% in 2017. That’s about in line with inflation over the past year, which has been around 1%.

More telling is the union negotiator’s statement that talks “progressed with mutual respect” and that “the union takes its place as a partner in the company.”

The last labour deal at the JdeQ was reached after a long bitter lockout in 2007-08, that saw employees producing their own newspaper as a pressure tactic, and the employer making increased use of external sources of news. That lockout set the stage for a much bigger one at the Journal de Montréal in 2009, in which both sides stepped up their game. It also prompted a legal review over the legality of replacement workers working remotely, a battle the union ultimately lost.

The 2008 JdeQ labour deal, reached as the U.S. financial crisis was turning into a global recession, had pay increases of 2.5% a year.

At the end of August, Quebecor-owned Videotron reached a deal with 800 employees in eastern Quebec and the Saguenay. Could this be a sign that Quebecor’s lockout strategy is coming to an end?

UPDATE: The story published in the Journal de Québec about its own labour deal just republishes word-for-word Quebecor’s press release (with some style changes) and then tacks on a quote from the union’s press release. It doesn’t mention that the quotes are from press releases.

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.

Gazette, mailroom strike deal to end six-month lockout

You’d be forgiven for not noticing, but The Gazette has just finished going through a labour conflict.

On Friday, the paper reports it has struck a deal with the union representing mailroom employees, who have been locked out since Aug. 7.

The deal will result in job reductions – seven buyouts and three layoffs with severance for a total of 10 jobs lost out of about 60.

On the other hand, the jobs will remain four days a week. The employer had wanted them to switch to five days a week.

Both sides say they are satisfied with the deal, which is good. It’s just unfortunate that it took six months to get to this point.

The lockout also affected a bargaining unit of two platemakers, who came to a deal in December.

Gazette locks out two bargaining units

Two bargaining units of The Gazette’s production department were locked out on Sunday after rejecting the employer’s final contract offer.

One unit is tiny, representing a grand total of two platemakers (a position the Gazette wants to abolish because of advances in technology). The other is larger, representing 20 full-time employees and many more part-time and temporary employees in the mailroom.

Because of my obvious conflict of interest with this case (and, frankly, my lack of familiarity with the issues), I won’t comment on it. But I’ll post this for the record and link to coverage elsewhere, which discusses the main issues (hours of work is a major one):

Or, of course, you can get it from the horse’s mouths. The Gazette’s story is here. The union’s press release is here.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll point out that most departments at The Gazette are unaffected by this lockout. Editorial, advertising and other employees who work downtown are part of an entirely separate union, the Montreal Newspaper Guild. The people who actually deliver newspapers to your doors (well, the few of you who still get home delivery of a newspaper these days) are also not affected. The plan is for the paper to continue being produced, and so far that is exactly what has happened, with managers filling in for locked-out employees.

In meta news, Montreal City Weblog’s Kate McDonnell has said she will no longer link to Gazette stories online until the lockout is settled (she did the same thing for the Journal de Montréal during its lockout).

And I couldn’t help but notice that someone at Le Devoir seems to have confused The Gazette with an Old Montreal restaurant called gaZette that opened up where the paper’s offices used to be almost a decade ago:

This is not The Gazette

UPDATE: Le Devoir’s error also made it into the print edition, with a huge photo.

Gazette editorial workers approve three-year deal

Employees in The Gazette’s editorial department (including myself) voted 63-20 (76%) on Sunday afternoon in favour of a three-year labour contract with 1.5% yearly salary increases (plus a signing bonus equivalent to 1.5% of wages during the previous year).

Turnout was 76% of the 109 editorial employees.

The workers have been without a contract since the summer of 2008, so wages have been frozen since then. The increases (besides the signing bonus) apply to the three years following ratification, up to 2014.

Among the features of the new contract:

  • Reporters can be asked to shoot video without additional compensation.
  • Permanent part-timers will have pro-rated paid vacation, as well as a guaranteed two consecutive days off a week.
  • Photographers get an increased car allowance, adjusted based on gas prices. Permanent photographers are also protected against layoff during the contract as a result of reporters shooting video.
  • Shift differentials (paid to employees for each shift worked before 7 am or after 7pm) increase from $8 to $12

The contract also included controversial language that redefines how seniority is calculated. Previously, many workers in editorial were given leave or alternate work arrangements (working fewer days a week) on the understanding that their seniority would not be affected. A letter of understanding with the new contract means time worked after May 2007 will be calculated based on actual days worked.

The Gazette has also agreed to post three new permanent full-time positions in the editorial department: two reporters and an online copy editor. This measure is designed to cut down on the numbers of “permatemps” who have worked non-stop but don’t yet enjoy the benefits of permanent status. Some have been working for up to nine years. (UPDATE April 22: City reporter Max Harrold, business/tech reporter Jason Madger and sports/online copy editor Kevin Mio have been made full-time permanent as of May 8.)

The editorial department voted in January 2009 against a contract that called for larger union concessions.

Three other smaller departments also voted on contract offers (with similar provisions for salary and benefits):

  • The IT department voted unanimously (4-0) in favour
  • The Reader Sales and Service department voted 7-4 (64%) in favour
  • The Business department voted unanimously (0-4) against their contract. They return to the bargaining table.

UPDATE: A brief in The Gazette and a press release from the CWA union.

It’s over: Journal workers approve contract by 64%

Locked-out workers of the Journal de Montreal have accepted – very reluctantly – an offer ending their two-year lockout.

After a 10-hour session inside a closed meeting at the Palais des Congrès, members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal voted 64.1% to approve a proposal by the mediator that will finally end the lockout that began on Jan. 24, 2009.

A back-to-work protocol still needs to be worked out. And approval is contingent on this being negotiated successfully. But it’s unlikely anything will stop this deal from getting final approval.

The deal, which lasts five years, will see the Journal hire back 62 workers (plus one temporary worker), which includes:

  • 24 journalists (12 in news, seven in sports and five in arts)
  • five deskers
  • four photographers
  • four graphic artists
  • an editorial cartoonist (assuming Marc Beaudet wants to return)
  • a statistician (plus a part-time or temporary one)
  • two quality control people
  • one “adjointe”
  • 10 people in classified (nine salespeople and one customer service agent)
  • 10 people in the business office, including two accountants

The rest will share a $20 million severance package, whose method of splitting is up to them (something expected to cause a lot of tension as they decide how to calculate how much each worker gets). For those of them lucky enough to get the choice, they’ll have two weeks to decide whether they want to rejoin their former newspaper.

Almost all of the Rue Frontenac personalities I talked to later Saturday night had already made up their minds: “No fucking way” are they going back to work for Quebecor, in the words of journalist Jessica Nadeau. Though some left open a slim possibility that they might accept a return, not wanting to close the door completely out of anger without thinking about it first, most of the core of Rue Frontenac made it abundantly clear that they are going to stay outside the grip of the Quebecor empire and try to make an independent publication of Rue Frontenac and RueFrontenac.com.

The contract is over 100 pages long and I’m just getting my first look at it. I’ll post more details in the days ahead, but suffice it to say this is a huge victory for Quebecor and a giant defeat for the union.

But at least some people will get some money out of it.

As you wait for more of my thoughts, you’ll find coverage of this story … well, just about anywhere:

Reaction and analysis is coming in from:

  • The FPJQ, which sees this as reinforcing its worries about media concentration in Quebec
  • Le Devoir’s Stéphane Baillargeon, who wonders if the managers who have been doing the work of journalists for the past two years won’t see themselves out of their jobs soon
  • Le Soleil, which looks at how this affects the Journal de Québec
  • The right, which sees this as a victory against the unions
  • Mauvais Oeil, which humorously looks at how readers of the Journal and the rest of the world see the conflict

And reaction from the journalists themselves:

New contract proposal to Journal de Montréal workers

The CSN has announced that locked-out members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal will vote on a new contract offer proposed by the mediator appointed by the Quebec government.

Note that this does not necessarily mean there’s an agreement in principle. The release mentions nothing about whether the union executive recommends the proposal, whether the employer will accept the proposal, or any details about the proposal itself. (UPDATE: Apparently the CSN is saying the union is, in fact, recommending the proposal, which is pretty huge — oh wait, the union is now denying it has recommended the deal.)

The vote will take place Saturday at 10am at the Palais des congrès, and followed by a press conference.

You’ll recall that the last vote on a proposal, in October, resulted in 89.3% of workers rejecting the offer.

Some reading on Quebec’s anti-scab law

Hearings began today (finally a reason to watch the National Assembly channel!) into Quebec’s labour laws, specifically the provisions against strikebreakers (scabs). They are prompted by the enduring two-year-old lockout at the Journal de Montréal, and the union’s argument that laws forbidding the use of replacement workers during a labour conflict need to be updated because they only apply to workers who physically enter the employer’s workspace.

An example to illustrate this is a company called Côté Tonic in Quebec City, which has been doing copy editing and page layout work for the Journal de Montréal during its lockout. Stories in Rue Frontenac and La Presse show that the small company did production work during the Journal de Québec lockout and had to fire people after that was resolved, but learned about an impending lockout at the Journal de Montréal before it was launched and even before the end of the labour contract for Journal de Montréal workers.

This information comes out now for a somewhat ironic reason: an employee who was laid off when she took maternity leave complained she was fired illegally. Her complaint was rejected because it was determined that the layoff happened after the Journal asked the company to reduce its workforce. But because labour relations board decisions are public, the dirty laundry comes out into the open.

The union representing locked-out workers claims there are all sorts of fly-by-night operations doing their work in secret, from customer service to page layout to accounting. But they’ve had difficulty gaining evidence about how they work, and under the current law there’s nothing they can do about it anyway.

Also worth reading:

There’s also the Twitter feed of Rue Frontenac’s David Patry, or the hashtag #commissionJdeM. The hearings can also be viewed online, in case you have a few hours to waste.

The future of Rue Frontenac

Rue Frontenac's newsroom

Rue Frontenac started as an idea, in that it was copied from an idea realized elsewhere. When the Journal de Québec was locked out for a year and a half, its workers launched a competing free daily and later a website called MédiaMatinQuébec.

The publication was a pressure tactic (a judge even ruled as such when Quebecor sought an injunction preventing them from publishing). It would keep people updated on the status of negotiations from the union’s perspective. But more importantly, it would remind readers that the real power of the newspaper came from its journalists, who would continue to do their jobs despite being in a labour conflict.

In essence, the journalists protested their lockout by continuing to work.

Whether MédiaMatinQuébec succeeded in its mission of forcing the employer’s hand by turning public opinion against it is a matter of debate. But it raised the profile of the locked-out workers, and journalists facing a labour conflict since then have made this idea part of their plans.

On Jan. 24, 2009, about six months after the end of the Journal de Québec lockout and less than an hour after an agreement not to launch a labour conflict had expired, 253 members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal were officially locked out of their jobs.

The lockout wasn’t a surprise – the writing had been on the wall for months. So a plan was already in place when the lockout became official (for both the employer and the union). Journalists would work out of the STIJM’s offices, which are next door to the Journal de Montréal’s office building at 4545 Frontenac St., at the end of Mont Royal Ave.

But rather than a free daily, they decided to go with a website. Unlike Quebec City, Montreal already had two free daily newspapers (one of which is owned by Quebecor), and its larger area makes it less practical to distribute a newspaper on a daily basis. Four days after the lockout began, RueFrontenac.com was launched.

(The title is somewhat ironic – though next door to the Journal’s offices on Frontenac, the STIJM is actually on Iberville St., just north of where Frontenac merges into it.)

Its team of journalists, working out of drafty offices without most of the usual office comforts, continued to work their beats, trying to come up with exclusives that would raise the website’s profile. It’s now considered a primary source of news and a major news organization in Montreal.

Rue Frontenac's first issue in October

In October 2010, after a successful test the year before with a special Canadiens issue, Rue Frontenac launched as a weekly tabloid newspaper to accompany the website. Rather than try to stay up to date with breaking news (much of it would be days old), the paper focused on features and exclusive reports. It was more of a magazine on newsprint than a newspaper.

Richard Bousquet, who has been coordinating Rue Frontenac in both its formats, says he worked seven days a week from August to December on this project, until he finally took a vacation over the holidays.

When it launched, Rue Frontenac had 1,400 distribution points, most shared with the free weekly Voir. Now, Bousquet says, it’s more like 1,600. And distribution points in Quebec City have been added to those in the Mauricie, Eastern Townships and Outaouais regions. The publication is also taking names of people who would be interested in paid delivery.

The print run is 75,000 copies, and Bousquet wants a return rate of under 5%. Right now it’s about twice that, but dropping as they adjust the number of copies for each stand.

The plan is that, with the exception of labour costs paid out by the union’s strike fund, the paper should be self-sufficient financially, meaning that advertising revenue (and maybe subscription revenue) should pay for printing and distribution costs.

Advertising comes slowly

“Ça roule,” union president Raynald Leblanc said during a press conference two weeks ago when asked about advertising in the paper edition. The reality is a bit more complex.

The first issue of Rue Frontenac had quite a bit of advertising, but it was mostly from unions showing solidarity, not businesses trying to make money.

A notable exception was Micro Boutique, the Apple dealer, which had a half-page ad in the first edition. Bousquet says they wanted in right away to take advantage of the media coverage surrounding the paper’s launch. They knew a lot of people would be interested in that first issue.

For other corporate advertisers, the biggest problem was essentially a bureaucratic one: big advertising campaigns are planned and budgeted months in advance. This means there isn’t much money for last-minute ads. Many advertisers are also worried about the long-term future of this newspaper if the labour conflict is eventually solved.

And then, of course, there are those who are worried about offending Quebecor, though that’s not so much an issue as you might think, Bousquet says. “C’est pas un journal de combat,” he clarifies. It’s not afraid to say bad things about the media empire, but that’s not its primary purpose, either. Obviously, they’re not getting ads from Archambault or Videotron, but most other advertisers aren’t afraid of what Quebecor might think.

(On Rue Frontenac’s website, whose advertising is served by BV! Media, now owned by Rogers, ads for Videotron have appeared in the past, not because Videotron specifically wanted to be on RueFrontenac.com, but because the ads were displayed throughout the advertising network.)

As we enter into that 3-6-month window, more ads are showing up in the paper. We’re entering RRSP season, which means a lot of ads from Desjardins, Bousquet offered as an example.

A profitable paper?

“On fait tout pour que Rue Frontenac continue à vivre,” Bousquet says. Knowing that there’s no way the Journal de Montréal will hire back all 253 workers or even a majority of that, the union eventually wants to offer the Rue Frontenac name to a publication that would be run by some of the workers who will be left behind.

It certainly won’t be all the workers not hired back at the Journal who will be able to continue with Rue Frontenac. Forced to pay salaries on top of other expenses, its budget wouldn’t be able to support 200 workers, or even 100, Bousquet admits.

Still, he feels strongly optimistic about Rue Frontenac’s future as a small publication filling a niche as a weekly newspaper focused on in-depth, exclusive stories, and a website with mostly original breaking news.

Asked whether he thinks having an actually profitable newspaper is feasible, he responds: “Oui, il y a possibilité. On croit que économiquement c’est possible.”

There are no big plans for the short term (at least, none Bousquet was willing to share), but they do plan to study their audience and their options. They’re still collecting names as they figure out whether they should implement a home delivery service, and they’re studying the possibility of increasing from one to two editions a week of the newspaper.

After the lockout

When a contract offer was voted down by a huge majority in the fall, and the union complained about an anti-competition clause as one of its main reasons for rejecting the deal, Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau said the company would withdraw its demand that Rue Frontenac be shut down and that laid-off workers be barred from working for La Presse. (When the Journal de Québec conflict was settled, one of its demands was that MédiaMatinQuébec be shut down, which is why it is no longer online.)

There are still other issues on the table, the biggest one being the number of employees who would be allowed to return to work. Negotiations that have recently resumed are covered under a blackout that prevents both sides from commenting publicly, but I imagine that number is still a major issue.

La question qui tue

So if Rue Frontenac does continue beyond the lockout, perhaps with a handful of employees, what are its chances of success?

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.

Journal de Montréal: 89.3% vote against offer

Workers of the Journal de Montréal have voted 89.3% against a contract offer that would have seen only 50 of 253 locked-out employees keep their jobs.

The offer was the result of negotiations held under a blackout, and while neither side would confirm that one was on the table (they wouldn’t even confirm that a meeting was being held to vote on it), some details had leaked out through the media, which notes that it is unchanged from the offer the employer tabled last month:

  • The deal would have seen only 50 of 253 jobs kept, among them only 17 journalists (out of 65), five editors and four photographers. The employer would choose who could keep their jobs
  • It would have required the shutting down of RueFrontenac.com, at least temporarily (UPDATE: No, it was permanent) and a promise not to launch any competing newspapers
  • Those losing their jobs would be prohibited from working for La Presse or Cyberpresse for a period of time
  • In exchange, the employer would offer unspecified severance pay to those losing their jobs

The vote is unsurprising, if only because 80% of those voting would have lost their jobs (and been prevented from seeking equivalent jobs elsewhere), and even though some of those might have been close to retirement and decided that some money was better than none, a strong feeling of solidarity in the union was more than enough to overcome those who were tired of the conflict and wanted a quick end at any cost.

Even though the lockout is in its 21st month, the Rue Frontenac operation is still in high gear, and is in fact gearing up. The union plans to launch a weekly paper version of Rue Frontenac this month. Meanwhile, there are hints of a parliamentary commission to negotiate an end to the conflict.

The union was quick to issue a release announcing the offer’s rejection (the blackout having been lifted). It includes this quote from union head Raynald Leblanc: “C’est une insulte envers nous, mais aussi envers tous les lecteurs du Journal de Montréal. Comment peut-on prétendre faire un journal de qualité avec aussi peu de personnel?”

Selon lui, le plan de Quebecor est simple. Moins d’information, plus de profits. En fait, la nouvelle salle de rédaction du Journal de Montréal n’aurait plus de journalistes à l’économie, ni aucun chroniqueur salarié. Tout proviendrait de l’extérieur, via l’Agence QMI, qui bafoue sans vergogne le principe d’étanchéité des salles de nouvelles.

Pire, l’entreprise a indiqué vouloir garder ses 25 cadres à la rédaction, ceux-ci se retrouveraient donc à superviser 32 employés. « Il est clair que l’arrogance de Quebecor est liée à l’interprétation restrictive faite par les tribunaux des dispositions anti-briseurs de grève. S’il y avait un tel ratio de cadres dans le système de santé, Le Journal de Montréal, Le Journal de Québec, TVA et LCN en feraient leurs manchettes et dénonceraient cette situation absurde », affirme Raynald Leblanc.

Quebecor also issued a release saying it was “profoundly disappointed” in the offer’s rejection. It gave its side of events in the next day’s Journal, downplaying the number of job cuts by playing around with numbers of part-time staff, those on disability or those near retirement.

Rue Frontenac, which stayed away from the story until after the meeting (becoming the only news outlet not to report on the story at first) simply pointed to other news outlets’ reports on the subject (for “objectivity’s” sake) and then published this rather non-objective piece on the subject.

LCN, to their credit, covered the vote fairly.

UPDATE: More commentary from:

Trente also interviews Leblanc on his feelings about the offer.

Le Réveil lockout ends with 80% losing jobs

Le Réveil, the other Quebecor paper whose workers were locked out early last year, has ended its labour conflict after its workers voted today to accept the employer’s final offer.

Quebecor put a final offer on the table on Thursday, adding that if the workers refused, the paper would be shut down at the end of the month. (Coverage from Radio-Canada, Rue FrontenacProjet J.) The final offer would result in the layoff of 20 of the paper’s 25 unionized employees, leaving only three journalists and two office workers. The rest would get severance of two weeks’ salary for every year of service, up to a maximum 42 weeks (14 of the 20 will max out, the rest will receive less).

The union voted 68% in favour of the offer.

UPDATE: After-the-fact coverage from Journal de Québec, Argent, Le Quotidien

A similar deal was reached last week at Le Plein Jour in Baie-Comeau.