Tag Archives: Montreal Newspaper Guild

Canwest gets another break

Like tonight’s episode of House, the latest Canwest announcement is a repeat. That doesn’t stop CBC, Reuters, CP, Variety and, of course, Canwest itself from writing stories about it.

The next date for our calendars is June 30, when this recapitalization plan will have to be figured out (or another deadline agreed on).

Meanwhile, my employer’s employer is reportedly looking to save $20 million in labour costs through union concessions. It has sent letters to unions but says it isn’t a done deal that they’re officially making such requests. If they were, it would include managers like Dennis Skulsky (who is being given an honorary degree, by the way), but not Leonard Asper. Still, the unions aren’t impressed.

The Gazette’s union, the Montreal Newspaper Guild, says it “has received no communication of any kind, verbal or written, from Canwest or Gazette management requesting us to consider any salary or other concessions in our contractual relationship in any of our units.”

The Gazette’s editorial and reader sales departments have been without a contract since June 2008.

Gazette editorial employees reject contract offer

At a general meeting Sunday afternoon of the Montreal Newspaper Guild, the union which represents Gazette employees, editorial and reader sales workers overwhelmingly rejected an offer from their employer for a new four-year contract.

The primary reason for the rejection was the employer’s demand to change language on union jurisdiction, which is a clause in the contract that says any work done for The Gazette must be done by members of its union. Management wanted to add language that would allow them to freely outsource jobs outside the province.

For Editorial (the unit I belong to), the vote results were 23 for, 95 against for an 80.5% rejection. For (what’s left of) Reader Sales and Service, the results were 4 votes for and 11 votes against for a 74% rejection.

In a separate meeting, the advertising bargaining unit approved a new four two-year deal by a vote of 17-9 (65%). That unit had a weaker strike mandate (59%) and the vote was expected to be close.

Classified and business office workers are under a separate contract which is still in effect.

More coverage:

(Plural nouns) matter

From Readers Matter (overamplified and distorted sound warning):

A spoof on the Gazette’s “words matter” TV campaign (not the first one either), to get people to pay attention to what’s going on in contract negotiations and sign a petition (now with over 5,000 signatures) put forward by the union. A Facebook cause has also been setup with 343 members.

UPDATE: Another video has just been posted.

Meanwhile, CTV News Montreal covered the Gazette union situation last night during its noon-hour and evening newscasts (Windows Media video). It includes an interview with Bernard Asselin, the VP of marketing and reader sales, who says that pagination is a “technical” job, and so it shouldn’t matter if it’s centralized in another city. He also says that “our goal, which is the same as the union’s, by the way, is to protect local content.”

On the picket line

Employees carry signs outside 1010 Ste. Catherine St. W.

Employees carry signs outside 1010 Ste. Catherine St. W.

As Canadians went to the polls today, editorial, advertising and reader service employees at the Gazette staged a lunch-hour information picket line, carrying signs and handing out leaflets explaining the situation to passers-by. The union, which is negotiating with management for a new contract (the previous one expired June 1), received a strong strike mandate but has so far not exercised it. Conciliation talks are scheduled for next week.

Journalists and other Gazette employees hold picket signs to attract public attention.

Journalists and other Gazette employees hold picket signs to attract public attention.

Turnout was pretty good considering there are less than 200 members affected (this includes the entire editorial department). Picket signs surrounded the building on all four sides for about an hour and a half.

Irwin Block gets interviewed by the radio

Union vice-president Irwin Block gets interviewed by a radio reporter. His T-shirt reads "The Gazette is Montreal, not Winnipeg."

Media coverage was very light, considering there’s this whole election thing is going on (have you voted yet?) and all hands on deck fanned out to swing ridings. But a radio reporter and photographer showed up, so you might see a tiny bit of coverage.

The key, though, is that this is just the beginning of the union’s public information campaign (should such a campaign become necessary).

Reporter William Marsden hands an information leaflet to a bus driver

Reporter William Marsden hands an information leaflet to a bus driver

Roberto Rocha: Communist hippie

Roberto Rocha: Communist hippie

Meanwhile, The Link covers the Gazette labour conflict and byline strike, and has an editorial which posits that in the new digital age, quality of journalism becomes key and wire copy doesn’t cut it anymore.

And La Presse also covers the Gazette today, focusing on the Canwest student scab situation. It includes a new explanation from Canwest, that the student freelancers would be needed mainly to provide material to other newspapers to compensate for the Gazette loss (Canwest has no Montreal bureau and relies on Gazette copy for news from Canada’s second-largest city). Of course, such articles would also be available to The Gazette.

UPDATE: Michel Dumais looks at the recent labour action around Canadian newspapers, and Le Devoir has an adorable photo of Phil Authier.

UPDATE (Oct. 16): Hour and Mirror both mention The Gazette’s union issues in their editions this week. Hour has a really good article by Jamie O’Meara arguing against the outsourcing of Gazette jobs (and includes one of my photos to illustrate it). Mirror makes The Gazette its insect of the week for Canwest’s attempts to recruit student scab labour.

Vultures circling as talks continue

I’ve been a bit quiet about contract negotiations at the Gazette since the strike vote, and that’s mainly because there’s nothing to report. Both sides were in talks Thursday and will return to the table Friday. People are optimistic, but the work-to-rule campaign and byline strike continue, and the guild has suggested employees bring personal effects home.

The Montreal Newspaper Guild website has the latest update, which also points out that talks for the 37 employees in the (non-classified) advertising department have broken off.

UPDATE (Oct. 10): No strike is being called for the foreseeable future. Friday’s talks had progress, though jurisdiction remains a roadblock. Conciliation talks are set for Oct. 20 and 21, and the guild says that “additional measures” are necessary to show that the union is “serious” about its demands.

Meanwhile, management is apparently preparing for the worst, with Canwest News Service making inquiries of Concordia University journalism students (and Gazette freelancers) who might want to work freelance for them in the event of a strike. Because they’d be working for Canwest and not The Gazette (even though Canwest owns The Gazette), they would not be breaking Quebec’s tough anti-scab laws, even if what they write is of local interest and would only appear in The Gazette.

Concordia’s journalism department director, Mike Gasher, has sent a letter to students cautioning them against working as freelance scabs, Macleans reports.

UPDATE: CBC has picked up the story (with requisite “CBC has learned” which implies they didn’t just read it from Macleans’ blog), and J-Source has picked it up from CBC. The CBC story includes a denial from Canwest News Service’s editor-in-chief that the inquiry has anything to do with a possible Gazette strike.

Thanks mostly to the CBC, other blogs are also picking up the story.

UPDATE (Oct. 14): La Presse also writes about the story, this time including a new explanation from Canwest: that the freelance copy would be needed in the event of a Gazette strike in order to provide material for Canwest News Service and other newspapers across Canada, to compensate from the loss of Gazette copy (Canwest has no non-Gazette journalists in Montreal). Of course, as a subscriber to Canwest News Service, The Gazette would have access to this copy as well.

Journal in negotiations

As if that weren’t enough, workers at the Journal de Montréal are also at the bargaining table for a new contract, mere months after their sister union at the Journal de Québec accepted a new contract that removes their four-day work week and requires journalists to perform multiple multimedia jobs.

Updates are on the Journal du Journal website. So far nothing too serious is coming out, besides low-level pressure tactics like wearing yellow lanyards.

Still, management at La Presse are no doubt creaming their pants multiple times over at the thought of their two main competitors both being crippled by work disruption simultaneously.

Ozzy Osbourne too

Just figured I’d throw this in there: the Writers Guild of America is telling members not to work for Freemantle Media, which produces a new Ozzy Osbourne “reality” show, because they couldn’t reach a deal that would involve paying writers less in order to write less (because it’s “reality” and therefore “half-scripted”).

Gazette staff start byline strike

You know, everything happens on my day off.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Thursday’s paper was missing names on top of articles written by Gazette reporters (and under photos by Gazette photographers). The union called for a byline strike as a pressure tactic after being frustrated by negotiations.

For those who want some background, Slate explains what byline strikes are all about. The last time Gazette staffers did this was in 2001 to protest a new national editorial policy by Canwest, one that many people have asked me about years later thinking it’s still in effect.

UPDATE: Bylines are also being pulled from Habs Inside/Out.

So you all can just go ahead and assume all the articles are being written by me now. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Gazette editorial dept. votes 98% for strike mandate

At a general meeting Sunday afternoon, members of three bargaining units at the Montreal Newspaper Guild, which represents workers at The Gazette, voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike mandate.

The results:

  • Editorial: 98% (Representing reporters, photographers, photo processors, desk clerks, graphic artists and copy editors including myself)
  • Reader Sales and Service: 100% (Representing what’s left of the department after the call centre was outsourced to Winnipeg)
  • Advertising: 59% (Representing sales staff and other advertising workers outside the classified department)

Turnout was 70% of the 182 members.

Two other units, representing the business office and classified advertising, are currently under contract and are unaffected by this.

This vote greatly strengthens the union’s bargaining position as the two sides return to the table on Tuesday. It does not necessarily mean there will be a strike, but it does give the bargaining committee the power to call one if negotiations break down and they decide it’s necessary. The employer is currently in a lock-out position.

The main issues on the table are:

  • Jurisdiction (a clause in the collective agreement that prohibits the employer from hiring non-unionized employees to do work normally done by the union, a clause that the guild argues is already being violated by the outsourcing of copy editing to Canwest Editorial Services in Hamilton, Ont.)
  • Wages (the employer is offering no wage increase, the union’s starting demand is 6% per year)
  • Job classification (the employer is asking that the distinction between reporter, critic, photographer and graphic artist be eliminated so employees can be forced to do jobs in more than one of these categories for no extra pay)

This strike mandate vote follows a similar one by the Ottawa News Guild representing workers at the Ottawa Citizen. They voted 83% in favour (though they had a higher turnout) and eventually settled on a 2-2.5% wage increase over five years (double what the employer had offered before the strike vote), with no jurisdiction guarantees.

UPDATE: Le Devoir has a brief about it. It describes the job classification issue as the “main issue,” which I think is debatable. The Gazette also has a brief, including a quote from publisher Alan Allnutt about how surprised he was by this vote.

Ottawa Citizen workers accept contract deal

Members of the Ottawa Newspaper Guild, which represents workers in the newsroom of the Ottawa Citizen, have accepted a contract offer that includes wage increases of 2.5% the first year, 2% the next three years and 2.5% the final year.

This sets the stage for a coming strike vote at the Gazette this Sunday.

And the union executive isn’t happy about the rejecting of their recommendation.

Citizen in strike position, and Gazette may follow

The Ottawa Newspaper Guild, which represents employees of the Ottawa Citizen took a strike vote on Thursday, its members voting 83% in favour of a strike mandate. This is a bargaining tactic, showing the employer the union is serious and that its members are prepared to walk off the job to get their demands. However, the union has said it has no plans to follow through with a strike so long as productive negotiations are continuing. The Citizen’s contract expired July 20, and the major issue standing in the way of a new one is wages: the employer is offering increases of 1%, 1%, 1.5%, 2% and 2% over five years, which represents a pay cut compared to inflation.

Meanwhile, the Montreal Newspaper Guild, which represents employees of the Gazette (including myself), has called a strike vote for Sept. 28. Same deal about this being a bargaining tactic (the sides go back to the table Sept. 30). Negotiations haven’t progressed to the wage discussion stage, but among the contentious issues is an employer demand that removes the distinction between reporter and photographer, which would mean journalists have to perform both functions.