Almost ninety per cent of 253 unionized journalists voted Tuesday to reject Journal de Montréal’s latest contract offer in a labor dispute unresolved since January 2009. The Journal’s offer would have let 48 people return to work, leaving eighty per cent of the workers without a job.
Journalists who produce content – such as reporters and photographers – would not have been able to work for a competitor for a period of six months if they wanted severance pay. The publications considered competitors are La Presse, Cyberpresse, and Rue Frontenac. Rue Frontenac is the union’s online news publication, which is scheduled to hit newsstands by the end of the month as a free weekly tabloid.
Quebecor, Journal’s parent company, called for Rue Frontenac to be shut down at the meeting between management and the union Tuesday. The company further demanded a six-month moratorium on the publication of any new strike papers or websites with the additional condition that the iconic name not be reused. Reynald Leblanc, the Journal’s union leader, told the Gazette that these demands were the deal-breaker.
Alain Bisson, financial reporter for Rue Frontenac, said the union had no substantial demands of their own during the negotiations. “We were willing to do our share. We understand that Journal wanted – not needed – to lower costs, but we wanted to see if we could do our part of the effort,” he said.
Bisson explained that the Journal prepared for the lockout well in advance to avoid hiring scabs. A year prior to the lockout, the newspaper hired new management and placed them in the Sports section. Twenty of the paper’s original sports writers are now on the picket line. All of the other sections were supplanted by Quebec Media Inc., a wire agency created two weeks before the lockout that enables the Journal to use content produced by employees at other Quebecor subsidiaries.
These tactics prompted the union to challenge Quebec’s Labour Code on the basis of trying to redefine what qualifies as “scab labour,” but the employees lost the case in court.
Bisson said he believes that Rue Frontenac has a lot of leverage in the labour dispute and explained that, with advertising revenue, the website is making a profit. “It’s another question to know whether Rue Frontenac could sustain so many journalists if it were a real business that paid salaries – I think it would be possible and viable,” he said.
Bisson and his colleagues still receive 75 per cent of their net salary, but many have been doing freelance work to support themselves. “The lockout was one of the reasons that I sold my house two months before [the lock-out] happened,” he said.
“There is no financial justification to Journal de Montréal [demands] – they make several millions a year, probably tens of millions in profit. We’re not talking about a company that has financial difficulties,” said Bisson. “There is no justification of stealing jobs from roughly 200 people.”