Tag Archives: labour

Entrevue: Jean-François Codère, ruefrontenac.com

A week before the anniversary of the Journal de Montréal lockout, I went to Rue Frontenac’s offices and sat down with tech journalist Jean-François Codère, and asked him a few questions that had been nagging me.

You’ll have to excuse the background noise, because Gabrielle Duchaine couldn’t shut her bloody pie-hole and stop flirting with me I haven’t gotten around to getting an external microphone for my cheap new video camera.

Some highlights from the interview, for those too lazy to sit through a half hour of a talking head (or who can’t understand French):

  • Codère learned about the idea for Rue Frontenac in December 2008, at which point he undertook the mission to setup “something like Cyberpresse” in a month, in time for the expected Jan. 2 start of the lockout. (Last-minute negotiations pushed into the new year, delaying the lockout until Jan. 24.) The site is based on Joomla, only because they’re familiar with it and the union’s website is based on the same platform.
  • Though the few people organizing the website knew well in advance, and some journalists had an idea of it the week before the lockout, most of the 253 union members didn’t know about Rue Frontenac until the day of the lockout.
  • The three-week delay between the end of the collective agreement and the start of the lockout helped to build up the site, but training everyone on how to use it still took a while, and was the main reason for a four-day delay between the lockout’s start and the launch of Rue Frontenac. (Codère points out Patrick Lagacé’s complaint last year that they weren’t acting fast enough – he says he asked Lagacé about it when he visited Rue Frontenac at Christmas, and Lagacé admitted that nobody remembers or cares anymore)
  • Salaries are paid out of the union’s strike fund, but Rue Frontenac’s other expenses are expected to be self-funded, mainly by advertising and donations.
  • Rue Frontenac works with assignment editors, but most people just cover their own beats. The number of articles journalists might file in a week varies depending on the type of story and other considerations.
  • Non-journalists, like classified and business office workers, tend to do more picketing because there’s not much they can contribute to Rue Frontenac.
  • Most people Codère talks to are at least aware of what Rue Frontenac is, so he doesn’t have trouble getting interviews. (Codère’s experience may be atypical – he’s their tech reporter, so the people he deals with are more connected and more exposed to the website.) Most reporters also already have good relationships with their contacts.
  • Getting access to events like concerts isn’t that difficult, even though they’re the only purely web media accredited at the Bell Centre. They’ve negotiated photographer access to 15 of 42 Habs home games, and hope to get a better deal next year (assuming they’re still locked out).
  • Rue Frontenac uses the Reuters photo service to get images for international stories. But all the text is generated from Rue Frontenac journalists.
  • Working at Rue Frontenac is “fun” compared to the Journal, but Codère is a realist: It’s not profitable to do journalism the way they’re doing it.
  • Some computers come from MédiaMatinQuébec, others are personal laptops used by journalists (many of whom had to get old ones or buy new ones because their work laptops were confiscated after the lockout was called).
  • They enjoy not having to do stories about the weather, Boxing Day and other ridiculousness.
  • Codère has received job offers since the lockout, but so far he’s turned them down to remain a journalist.
  • Yes, Rue Frontenac asked for documents to submit a bid to do news for V (ex-TQS), but that was more to learn from the documents. Considering the CSN is still fighting for former TQS journalists whose jobs are being replaced by this subcontracting of news, actually submitting a bid would put the union in an awkward position to say the least.
  • What happens to Rue Frontenac after the lockout ends will depend on negotiations, but MédiaMatinQuébec’s website was taken down as a condition of the Journal de Québec workers going back. What kind of impact that would have depends on how long it will be, and how much work will have gone into Rue Frontenac. Codère’s ideal would be for the Journal to buy Rue Frontenac and all its content, but he isn’t holding his breath.
  • Despite the success of Rue Frontenac, Codère doesn’t think it’s feasible in the short term to have an online-only news organization without a corresponding newspaper. Newspapers come to you, he points out, whereas you have to go to websites. He thinks it will be at least a few years until a serious online newsroom can be financially sustainable.

And one thing that wasn’t in the interview: Rue Frontenac subscribes to digital television. But for some reason they prefer Bell satellite TV to Videotron cable.

UPDATE (Jan. 28):

Jean-François Codère talks about Rue Frontenac on CFCF's News at Noon

Seems CTV also got the idea that Codère was a good person to talk to about this anniversary.

Journal union celebrates a year off the job with a party

The one-year anniversary is only days away (today is Day 363)

The Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal held a press conference yesterday to advance the upcoming one-year anniversary of their lockout. I was working so I couldn’t make it, but there’s plenty of coverage in The Gazette, Presse Canadienne, Radio-Canada, Le Devoir, Metro (which has video of the press conference), and – to be fair – Quebecor-owned Argent does an acceptable job of getting both sides.

The STIJM also announced that they’re holding a party on Sunday – the one-year anniversary – at La Tulipe. Performers include Richard Desjardins, Tricot Machine, Louise Forestier et El Motor, Loco Locass and Jean-Sébastien Lavoie. Tickets are $20 and available only at the box office (assuming they’re not already sold out).

Letter from Journal de Montréal pisses off locked-out workers

There was a bit of a ruckus overnight in Mirabel.

The Journal de Montréal management, in response to the union’s call for new negotiations to end the almost year-long lockout, laid out the “reality” of the situation and reiterated the demands made before the lockout began. Both the union and the employer accuse the other of backtracking on deals made during negotiations last year.

After receiving letters yesterday of management’s presentation to the union negotiating committee on Friday (the text of which is reproduced below), Journal workers went to the Mirabel printing plant where the Journal is printed and picketed outside, delaying delivery of the paper (and, as “collateral damage”, Le Devoir as well, as it’s now printed there). Press release and stories from Rue Frontenac, Journal de Québec, CBC, Radio-Canada and Presse Canadienne.

The Journal condemned the “illegal” manifestation in a statement.

UPDATE (Dec. 16): La Presse has more on the situation in a day-after story.

Continue reading

The entirely unbiased history of the Journal de Québec lockout

The Syndicat Canadien de la fonction public publique (Canadian Union of Public Employees) has put together a 23-minute video (in French and with English subtitles) about the 15-month lockout of editorial employees (and subsequent strike by press workers) at the Journal de Québec in 2007 and 2008.

As you can imagine, being a union-produced video, it’s hardly detached from the situation and presents a somewhat distorted view. There are no interviews with Quebecor or Journal management (who knows if the SCFP even tried). Talk of the deal that was eventually reached talks of it being a huge victory for the workers, while in reality it was more of a reasonable compromise between the two sides’ demands.

Even though the labour disruption ended in the summer of 2008, the saga is far from over. The union is appealing a court decision that nullified a labour board ruling that the Journal used scabs as subcontractors during the lockout. There’s also a fight over Quebecor Media wanting to add additional Journal de Québec journalists to the National Assembly to make up for the Journal de Montréal journalists currently being locked out.

Looking back at the conflict also serves as a comparison with the current situation at the Journal de Montréal (and Le Réveil, whose 26 locked-out workers want to go back to the table). The chasm between workers and employer in Montreal is even larger than it was in Quebec, although many of the issues are the same.

But the union, and the documentary, are right about one big thing: The MédiaMatinQuébec experiment changed the face of labour disruptions involving journalists, and is serving as a template. The template couldn’t be entirely replicated by the STIJM in Montreal (Montreal already has two free newspapers – one owned by Quebecor – and the territory is larger than Quebec City), but the Rue Frontenac website might not have happened were it not for MMQ.

Unfortunately for the union members, Quebecor also learned from the Journal de Québec lockout. It learned how to get around anti-scab laws, and made sure its Agence QMI was setup so it could take news from other sources and reproduce them in the Journal de Montréal.

If the Journal de Montréal workers end up with a deal similar to what the Journal de Québec workers got, that will probably also be hailed as a huge victory for the union. But who knows how long it will be until that happens. Both Quebecor and the STIJM are prepared for the long haul.

Le Trente also has some discussion about the SCFP’s video.

Status quo at AMT

File photo of a train for illustration win!

File photo of a train for illustration win!

At midnight Friday night, CN locomotive engineers went on strike, following their 72-hour notice that sent everyone in a panic because two AMT train lines (Deux-Montagnes and Mont-Saint-Hilaire) are run by those engineers and would have been disrupted or even shut down if there was a strike.

Fortunately, late Friday night the union agreed (or was forced to through an AMT injunction) to keep service on the AMT trains running as normal through the strike.

As you can expect from the AMT’s deficient customer service, there’s no mention of this late-night, last-minute change – or even of the strike itself – on their website’s homepage, despite all the media attention it has been getting. Even under “avis aux voyageurs”, there’s no mention of the potentially crippling strike, and users get the very unhelpful “aucune information disponible” for the status of all five train lines. You have to know to go to the AMT’s corporate website to find a press release saying service won’t be affected.

Contrast that with VIA Rail, which has its own engineers and so wasn’t going to be affected in the first place. Nevertheless, there’s a section of its homepage for travel advisories, and it says very clearly that service won’t be affected by the CN strike. (VIA has some experience with this, going through a strike of its own this summer.)

At GO Transit in Toronto, it’s not as clear if there will be disruptions (and there’s nothing on the homepage), but the status page (updated regularly even on weekend afternoons) makes it clear the service is still running normally.

As for CN itself, the homepage makes it look like nothing’s wrong at first, but under “news releases” there’s mention of the strike, and the “state of the railroad” page has a few details about what’s going on.

I realize nobody likes to work weekends, and those who do can’t change the elaborate web page design that the boss’s nephew was paid lots of money to put together, but when engineers go on strike, we don’t care about your new train cars or how you’re fighting for the environment. We want to know what’s going on.

La Presse will survive

Two pieces of good news for La Presse today: They’ve reached a deal in principle with their last union – representing distribution workers – and the editorial union has voted 93% in favour of a new contract. Later today, two smaller units, representing IT workers (11/11 in favour) and office workers (29/55, or 53% in favour) also approved their new contracts.

This effectively means that La Presse won’t be shut down on Dec. 1 as it had threatened to do.

The distribution workers will vote on their deal Monday, so we won’t know the details until then.

But we know what’s in the editorial contract (or at least most of it). I’m waiting for a copy of the full contract, but here’s what’s being reported (Radio-Canada, CP, Gazette, Trente, Rue Frontenac):

  • The work week changes from 32 hours over four days to 35 hours over five days, at the same salary. Those who want to keep the four-day work week can become part-time employees (28 hours a week).
  • Salaries remain frozen for 2010 and 2011, but will go up by 2% for each of the last two years. The maximum salary goes to $90,000 in 2012 and $95,000 in 2013. Those who work 40 hours a week have their salaries frozen until 2017.
  • Employees will now pay 100% of dental insurance premiums, and 60% of medial premiums
  • As of Jan. 3, pensions will no longer be adjusted to the cost of living
  • Less vacation: they get 5 weeks at 14 years of service instead of nine, 6 weeks at 22 years instead of 20, and the 7-week vacation plateau has been eliminated. But employees get six more mobile vacation days a year.
  • Employees of La Presse and Cyberpresse are merged under the same unit and will be treated equally.

As a result of the deal, La Presse foresees no layoffs of permanent editorial employees, but expects five to take voluntary departures.

La Presse: Two weeks and counting

UPDATE (Nov. 20): At 3:30am, an agreement in principle with three of the remaining unions, including the journalists. All that remains is distribution, but that’s the bargaining unit that La Presse wants to fire half of.

The deal still needs to be approved by the members, and we don’t know which side caved on the various demands, but the union seems to think this is the best offer they could get.

In case you forgot, La Presse is shutting down on Dec. 1.

While many have dismissed this over-the-top threat (they’d also shut down cyberpresse.ca) as an insane bluff, Gesca has reinforced it, reportedly arranging for BlackBerrys to be returned next week. Managers and employees are clearing out their desks, and the atmosphere in the newsroom is very tense.

The union, which was in negotiations today and will meet with members on Saturday, released this video in which Richard Labbé and Isabelle Masse sing (!) about what people would lose if La Presse gets shut down:

Mind you, I think Patrick Lagacé could find employment elsewhere, and there are lots of options for crosswords.

UPDATE: Rue Frontenac watched the video.

Should journalist associations take sides in union issues?

Next weekend, the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec is holding its annual conference in Sherbrooke. Most journalists will be there for the seminars and workshops and other opportunities for training and networking that such a conference can provide. But these incentives are also a way for the FPJQ to get its members to show up to its annual meeting on Sunday to take care of the internal bureaucratic stuff, like electing a board of directors.

Normally that part is pretty boring, but this year, for the first time in longer than anyone can remember, the presidency of the association is being contested by more than one candidate.

On one side if Martin Bisaillon, a locked-out journalist with RueFrontenac.com, who would become the first FPJQ president locked out from his job as a journalist. He’s running on an unofficial slate that includes Brian Myles of Le Devoir, Isabelle Richer of Radio-Canada, André Noël of La Presse and Michel Corbeil of Le Soleil.

On the other side is François Cardinal, a columnist at La Presse. He’s not running with a team, but his candidacy was encouraged by current president François Bourque, who isn’t running again.

Though technically nominations are open until Saturday at 1 p.m., these are the only two expected candidates, and their platforms have been posted on the FPJQ’s website.

One issue

Bisaillon admits that his candidacy stems from a decision made by Bourque to criticize a proposed boycott by members of the National Assembly against journalists for the locked-out Journal de Montréal. Bourque said it would set a bad precedent for MNAs to dictate which journalists they would talk to and which they wouldn’t, and that such a boycott would go against the principles of freedom of the press that the FPJQ defends.

Bisaillon, who as a member of the locked-out Journal de Montréal staff has a clear vested interest in this debate, was harshly critical of that statement, which he interpreted as the FPJQ taking a stand against the union:

La Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec a suscité beaucoup de mécontentement ces derniers mois parmi ses membres, notamment en raison de la prise de position du président sortant sur le conflit de travail au Journal de Montréal. En janvier dernier, François Bourque s’était insurgé contre les députés qui disaient ne plus vouloir donner d’entrevue au Journal de Montréal en raison du lock-out décrété par Quebecor le 24 janvier.

Par cette prise de position, M. Bourque a rompu avec la tradition de neutralité de la FPJQ. Pis encore, son intervention a fait en sorte que les partis politiques à Québec se sont sentis libres de collaborer avec le Journal de Montréal en lock-out, alimentant ainsi un média privé de ses artisans. M. Bourque aurait du s’en tenir au principe de neutralité de la FPJQ dans ce dossier.

Les journalistes qui se présentent avec moi entendent maintenir cette neutralité comme valeur absolue. En revanche, nous ne pouvons pas ignorer la réalité qui nous heurte. Cette réalité est sombre : salles de presse atrophiées, lock-out ou menaces de lock-out, multiplication des blogueurs et autres «journalistes citoyens», banalisation de l’information au point d’en faire un objet de consommation.

Cardinal, while he doesn’t name Bisaillon in his platform directly, makes it clear that he doesn’t want the FPJQ getting involved in these issues and potentially alienating managers and media owners:

Imaginons maintenant une FPJQ plus radicale, une FPJQ qui se jette dans la mêlée, bref une FPJQ détournée de ses valeurs fondatrices. Aurait-elle la crédibilité nécessaire pour asseoir à une même table des groupes de presse aux intérêts divergents? Évidemment pas.

Certes, il y a du mécontentement au sein de la Fédération, avec raison. Appelée à réagir à chaud sur des dossiers extrêmement complexes et délicats, la FPJQ marche constamment sur des œufs, et en casse parfois. Ayant un large membership, elle déplaît à l’occasion à certains de ses membres, qui hélas s’y retrouvent moins.

What does neutral mean?

Both candidates say they want the FPJQ to be neutral in labour conflicts, but their interpretations of neutrality clearly differ. Bisaillon, a militant union man, thinks the association should sit quietly when the interests of unions and the interests of journalists are at odds (he does, however, think they should speak out against convergence, outsourcing and other issues that affect unions negatively). Cardinal apparently believes the association should ignore whether unions are at issue and focus on journalism and journalists first. (UPDATE: Cardinal clarifies his position via Twitter: “FPJQ doit s’impliquer lorsque la liberté de presse est menacée et que les journalistes ne peuvent plus travailler dans des conditions adéquates”)

The debate here is whether the FPJQ should support the interests of journalism or the interests of its members (most of whom are unionized). The answer isn’t obvious.

One insider emailed me this week to express concern about Bisaillon’s candidacy, worrying that union members would vote en masse for him and the association would be an extension of the unions, especially powerful ones like the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal.

On the federal level, the FPJQ’s best equivalent is the Canadian Association of Journalists, which frequently takes public stands on issues affecting media. In some cases, such as condemning job cuts at CTV and CBC, those could be seen as pro-union, but other issues it has stayed silent on, including the lockout at the Journal de Montréal.

There’s an instinctual force sometimes among unionized journalists (such as myself) to think that every union issue is also an issue of freedom of the press, that any dispute between employer and employee is a dispute between the good journalist trying to do a professional job and an evil media empire bent on cutting corners in order to make a quick buck.

Whether journalists actually agree with that stance, well, we’ll find out on Sunday.

See also: Cent Papiers also discusses this issue.

La Presse union deal … or not

La Presse announced on Wednesday it had reached a deal in principle with half its unions (those affiliated with the FTQ), representing advertising, printing and other workers.

The news caught the other unions (affiliated with the CSN) off guard, and they shot off a communiqué accusing La Presse of negotiating in bad faith.

The CSN unions are the more important ones, because they represent editorial and distribution. Without their okay, nothing really changes.

La Presse is about two-thirds of the way to a deadline it has set for its employees to accept wage concessions. It has threatened to shut down the paper on Dec. 1 if its demands are not met.

La Presse still on the path to destruction

In case you forgot, La Presse is about a month away from being shut down.

Negotiations between the paper and its unions have apparently been stalled, prompting editor Guy Crevier to send out a letter to employees, which lays out some of the employer’s offer. They have withdrawn their demand for salary cuts, but are still demanding a five-day work week, laying off 48 people in distribution, and moving from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan for new employees.

The unions responded with a letter of their own, saying they have accepted the principal demand of moving to a five-day work week but that the employer is refusing to negotiate on compromises. They say they will ask for a conciliator to be brought in.

A deal at Radio-Canada

Rue Frontenac is reporting that the Syndicat de communications de Radio-Canada has reached a deal in principle with the employer and is presenting it to members for a vote this week.

The SCRC is the smaller of the two unions representing staff at CBC/Radio-Canada. It covers all employees in Quebec and in Moncton, N.B., which are predominantly French-speaking, but it covers employees in either language in those areas, which means the SCRC also covers anglophone employees in Montreal.

The rest of Canada is covered by the Canadian Media Guild, which famously got locked out in 2005.

If approved, the deal would be for three years.

Vos vrais patrons, c’est moi?

Got this flyer in the mail today. It’s from Montreal’s blue-collar union (SCFP 301), who are trying to negotiate a new contract with the city (and are staging a one-day strike on Wednesday). They try to gain public sympathy by arguing that union labour is cheaper than outsourcing, and that their salary demands of 2/2.5% per year are not extravagant.

More details from this “exclusive” La Presse piece, and some thoughts from Propos Montréal.


Continue reading

Rue Frontenac, paper edition

Rue Frontenac, with Quebecor's Journal de Montréal and 24 Heures

Rue Frontenac, with Quebecor's Journal de Montréal and 24 Heures

As Montreal’s favourite hockey team suffered yet another preseason loss, many fans had in their hands a new newspaper put together by some very experienced journalists. Rue Frontenac, the news website put together by the 253 locked-out workers of the Journal de Montréal since January, put together its first printed product, a special section on the Canadiens.

You’ll recall that when the Journal de Québec was locked out in 2007-08, they printed their own free newspaper MédiaMatinQuébec to compete with their employer as a pressure tactic. When the Journal de Montréal faced the same fate, it was determined that the larger city, not to mention the existence of two free dailies (one owned by Quebecor) meant doing the same here wouldn’t work as well, so it was decided that RueFrontenac.com would be an online-only operation.

But then, online only gets you so far.

The publication, coordinated by Jean-Guy Fuguère, is strictly a Canadiens season lookahead, with commentary from veterans like Marc De Foy and Bertrand Raymond, as well as union-sympathizing stars Martin Brodeur and Jacques Demers. It’s 40 pages long, and has a few advertisements, from Molson, Chambly Mazda, various unions and Georges Laraque’s WeTeam Ice.

You can get it in PDF format on Rue Frontenac’s website. They will also be distributing 50,000 copies of the paper over the coming days.

Continue reading

They weren’t scabs after all

In December, Quebec’s labour relations board made a precedent-setting decision in a case pitting the Journal de Québec workers union against the newspaper and news agencies Quebecor did business with while the union was locked out.

In the decision, the Commission des relations du travail expanded the definition of “workplace” in Quebec’s anti-scab law, ruling that since journalists perform their work outside of the office, their workplace is anywhere and everywhere.

The decision had huge implications for labour in the information economy. Unlike factory workers, information workers can do their job from just about anywhere, submitting their data to the employer when they’re done with it. Under this decision, the Journal de Québec and other employers couldn’t simply contract out work to other companies that was being done by its own employees.

Quebecor and the Journal de Québec appealed the decision, and this month Quebec Superior Court overturned the CRT’s decision, setting the definition of “workplace” back to what it was before.

As a result, the workers deemed scabs by the CRT have had those labels removed by the court.

And anyone who does a job that deals mainly with processing information and data has lost the protection that a union might have given them, because they can be simply replaced by subcontractors in case of a strike or lockout.


As Agence Nomade pops the Champagne corks, the union says it might appeal the decision, but it seems that this might ultimately go to the politicians at the National Assembly, who will have to make clear what their intention is about banning replacement workers.

Sorry, you’re a scab

The publication of the Journal de Québec decision comes on the same day that the Quebec Press Gallery rejected an application by two of its employees, who are attached to Agence QMI’s new parliamentary bureau. The decision came after a long debate about whether to accept members who have involvement in companies with labour disputes.

After rumours circulated that Quebecor might sue members of the press gallery’s board, it also adopted a resolution protecting thost members in case of legal action related to their official functions.

Ex-TQS employees get full severance: ruling

When TQS went into bankruptcy and was sold to Remstar, the struggling network laid off dozens of employees, including its entire news division. Remstar offered 20% of their contractually-obligated severance pay, arguing that the station was in bankruptcy and the layoffs happened before Remstar took control. It treated former employees as creditors instead of employees.

Now, the Canada Industrial Relations Board has ruled that Remstar must pay 340 former TQS employees 100% of what they are owed, which Hugo Dumas has put at between $3,000 and $50,000 per employee, for a total of $8 million.

Coverage from Presse Canadienne, Radio-Canada, Richard Therrien and Rue Frontenac.

Remstar says it is analyzing the decision.

A grievance challenging V’s use of subcontractors for news gathering is still under way.