Concern is growing that the local newspaper industry may be sinking under the weight of labour disputes. Last week, La Presse, one of Montreal’s three French language daily newspapers, reached a settlement with its workers. The city’s second largest newspaper had threatened to shut down on Dec. 1 if workers did not make concessions.
Union representative Rudy Le Cours made it clear that employees are not completely satisfied with the results. “Enormous concessions have been made by La Presse employees,” he said.
On the corporate side, publisher Guy Crevier said the agreements will result in $10 million in savings for the newspaper. This figure still falls short of the $13 million the paper’s owner, the Power Corporation of Canada, had hoped for.
La Presse isn’t the only French-language daily in the city dealing with contention between suits and union employees.
In what could be seen as a growing trend in Montreal’s print media, Le Journal de MontrÃ©al has been facing troubles of its own.
Because of a dispute over pay cuts and an expressed concern over a lack of job security, employees and employers at Quebecor’s Le Journal have not yet been able to negotiate a settlement. Workers at the paper, who have been locked out since January 2009, have continued to publish stories online through their own website, ruefrontenac.com.
The locked-out employees gained a degree of recognition and credibility this year through their scoops on the construction scandal in Montreal.
Unable to return to work and without a concrete guarantee of renewed employment, Le Journal’s staff remain in limbo as they prepare to meet with their employers this coming Friday.
Louis-Serge Houle, a media relations representative for Centrale des syndicats du QuÃ©bec, a body that represents 180,000 workers in different fields in Quebec, including the media, said La Presse’s successful negotiations have given him hope that his paper will be able to work something out.
Yet Houle said he remains skeptical about whether Le Journal is at all willing to negotiate with its employees. “Le Journal makes a lot of money and has an even bigger audience than La Presse,” he said. “But so far they have been unwilling to negotiate with us at all.”
The question remains whether Montreal’s newspapers can weather the rocky road ahead and what the consequences will be if not.
French media is important for francophone Quebecers, Houle noted, because they have few options when looking for news. “If you are an anglophone Montrealer you have your local paper the Gazette but you can also read the Globe and Mail or the New York Times,” he said. “If La Presse or Le Journal de MontrÃ©al were to go out of business, it would mean much less variety for francophones.”