Journal de Montreal workers still hold the line

26 01 2010

One year anniversary of lockout celebrated Sunday with show of solidarity at La Tulipe — by Tobi Elliott

One year after le Journal de Montreal‘s unionized employees were locked out of their workplace, negotiations are yet at a standstill between Quebecor Media and the workers. The war of words continues in the streets and online: Quebecor promotes its cause at http://www.lheurejuste.ca, and the union workers at journaldujournal.ca. Neither shows any signs of budging.

Today, the 46-year old French language newspaper is still published daily by Quebecor’s management and freelancers. Much of the content comes from Quebecor’s other holdings, such as the TVA network, Sun Media dailies like 24 heures and the Canoë site.

On the other side of the locked doors, the union’s upstart news site Ruefrontenac.com is giving the Journal a serious run for its money. Underwritten by the worker’s union and staffed by le Journal’s reporting staff, the site went live four days after the 253 workers were locked out Jan. 24, 2009.

Not only is the upstart site looking more and more like a credible news source, it’s also attracting some decent advertising dollars. Pascal Filotto, the secretary of the workers’ union said that ruefrontenac is “exceeding everything that we’d hoped for.”

Ads from TELUS, Milk-bone Canada, Downy and TD Canada Trust have appeared on the site. Their biggest advertiser to date is the Federation des travailleurs et travailleuses du Quebec, a “million-dollar contract” that Filotto said came their way when Quebecor refused to run the agency’s ads in any of their outlets because FTQ refused to have their ads run in le Journal.

At a benefit concert at La Tulipe marking the one-year anniversary of the lockout, Raynald Leblanc, president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montreal, said it was “very, very possible” the union could hold out longer than two years if Ruefrontenac continues to grow at the rate it has been.

Raynald Leblanc says the union workers are "not victims" but fighters.

Filotto went so far as to claim Ruefrontenac “could eventually replace our strike fund.” At the start of the lockout, the fund had enough to pay workers 76 per cent of their salaries for two full years.

About one hundred reporters and editors work full-time on the site, another forty contribute to it occasionally. Those who don’t work on the site have to be at the picket lines at least twenty hours each week.

The two sides have only met once since the lockout. “We’re pretty much no where,” summed up Filotto. If anything, the divide appears greater than ever. While there was no talk of newsroom cuts before Christmas, said Filotto, now there is.

The union says they’re ready to meet to discuss “working conditions, working hours, financial issues… everything, everything would be on the table for us. That’s what we’ve always done,” said Filotto.

According to Montreal’s The Gazette, Isabelle Dessureault, vice-president of public affairs at Quebecor Media Inc., said the major stumbling block in negotiations continues to be the question of layoffs.

Apart from work conditions and layoff negotiation, a major sticking point for the union is how Quebecor incorporated le Journal’s content into Canoë’s network. Quebecor President Pierre Karl Peladeau wrote in the Jan. 26, 2009 edition of le Journal de Montreal that they want to use the newspaper’s material “on Quebecor Media’s current and future platforms – and vice versa – in order to respond to the expectations of the readers.”

The union workers say they don’t want their stories incorporated into a system that includes jobboom.com, and micasa.ca, and used in TVA publications such as 7 Jours, Lundi, Dernière heure, Écho Vedettes, etc.

The union claims they have asked management for a Journal website for eight years, but they were told. “ ‘We’re not ready, give us some time, let us use this stuff from the Journal on all our other websites,’” said Filotto. Instead of their own website, they got Canoë.

“At some point they stopped wanting to talk to us,” said Filotto, “… and they’ve just put our stuff on Canoë, and started promoting the Canoë in the pages of the Journal as if it was the Journal’s website.”

The director of Concordia’s journalism department, Mike Gasher, said that although he’s skeptical ruefrontenac “will be able to make a serious go of it for very long,” he doesn’t think the Journal’s unionized workers are being unreasonable in their demands.

“I think the journalists recognize that the content they produce is the real franchise of Le Journal de Montreal and diluting that content is the wrong way to go,” said Gasher.

This symptom isn’t just local and Gasher thinks le Journal’s workers are in tune with what’s happening everywhere. “They are seeing newspapers all around them gutted by companies simply interested in squeezing out as much work as possible from as few workers as they can afford, with very little concern for the integrity of the editorial content or the integrity of the journalists who produce that content,” said Gasher.

“They dress it up in the language of convergence and the realities of multi-platform journalism, but their game is really putting the squeeze on the so-called content producers,” he said.

“The newspaper industry is not dying; it’s committing suicide by gutting newsrooms and becoming mere repeater stations of the rival media they don’t seem to want to compete with,” Gasher continued. “The unions recognize this and are resisting.”

That resistance was celebrated in the form of a sold out show at La Tulipe Sunday night with musicians Richard Desjardins, Tricot Machine, Louise Forestier and El Motor, Loco Locass and Jean-Sébastien Lavoie.

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