One year after le Journal de MontrÃ©al’s unionized employees were locked out of their workplace, negotiations are still at a standstill between Quebecor Media and the workers. The war of words continues in the streets and online: Quebecor promotes its cause at www.lheurejuste.ca and the union workers at journaldujournal.ca. Neither shows any signs of budging.
The 46-year old French-language newspaper is still published daily by Quebecor’s management and freelancers, with much of the content coming from Quebecor’s other holdings, such as the TVA network, Sun Media dailies and the CanoÃ« 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.
With the site looking like a credible news source and attracting decent advertising dollars, the secretary of the workers’ union, Pascal Filotto, said ruefrontenac is “exceeding everything that we’d hoped for.”
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 to mark the one-year anniversary of the lockout, Raynald Leblanc, president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de MontrÃ©al, 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.
Working through a lockout
About 100 reporters and editors work full-time on the site, while another 40 contribute occasionally. Those who don’t work on the site have to be at the picket lines at least 20 hours each week.
The two sides have only met once since the lockout. “We’re pretty much nowhere,” Filotto said.
The union says they’re ready to meet to discuss “working conditions, working hours, financial issues … everything would be on the table for us. That’s what we’ve always done,” said Filotto.
Layoffs are a major stumbling block in negotiations, Isabelle Dessureault, vice-president of public affairs at Quebecor Media Inc., told The Gazette. The paper’s management wants to make layoffs without union input.
Apart from work conditions and layoff negotiations, a major sticking point for the union is how Quebecor incorporated le Journal’s content into CanoÃ«’s network. Quebecor president Pierre Karl Peladeau has said this is done in order to meet the expectations of readers and broadcasters.
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 that include 7 Jours, Lundi and DerniÃ¨re heure.
The union claims they had asked management for a Journal website for eight years, but were told the company was not ready, said Filotto.
“At some point they stopped wanting to talk to us,” said Filotto, “and they’ve just put our stuff on CanoÃ«, and started promoting the CanoÃ« in the pages of the Journal as if it was the Journal’s website.”
Newspapers on a suicide mission
The director of Concordia’s journalism department, Mike Gasher, said he doesn’t believe 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 MontrÃ©al and diluting that content is the wrong way to go,” he said.
This symptom isn’t just local, Gasher said, adding that 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, noting that this “squeeze” is often dressed up in the language of convergence.
“The newspaper industry is not dying,” he said. “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.”