Canada’s longest running media labour dispute may have officially ended late last month, when the Syndicat des travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal (STIJM) accepted Quebecor Media Inc.’s offer, but much of the union’s back to work protocol has yet to be finalized.
Of the 253 employees initially locked out from their jobs at the Journal de Montréal, 62 will be allowed back to work, 42 of whom will be in the newsroom. Rue Frontenac, the online and recently weekly print newspaper started by the locked out journalists as a pressure tactic against their employer, will be allowed to continue publishing.
Earlier offers from Quebecor – such as the one the STIJM rejected by a resounding 89 per cent of the vote last October – included a non-concurrence clause, which would have shut down the Frontenac brand.
The offer that the STIJM finally accepted initially included stipulations about Frontenac’s fate, which the STIJM refused to agree to during negotiations. Quebecor offered to tie the paper to its media empire by offering the paper, among other things, a $4,000 rebate on publishing and distribution.
However, the proposed financial aid came with conditions which felt “very restrictive” to Frontenac’s growth, according to STIJM secretary general Pascal Filotto. The paper would have had to adopt a worker’s co-op business model without the option of taking on new business partners and investors. As well, it would not have been allowed to publish a daily print edition for five years.
After two years on the street, the animosity between Quebecor and its former employees has left Filotto doubtful that an alliance between the two groups will emerge. He said that, although 42 people will ultimately be allowed back to the newsroom at the Journal, “as it stands, they don’t even have 42 people willing to go back.”
Most will likely take a severance package instead.
The fact that Frontenac is looking increasingly viable as an independent publication will likely further hamper the possibility for a merger between Quebecor and Frontenac. According to Filotto, advertisers have been pouring in since the end of the lockout.
“Advertising with us was somewhat of a political statement – you were taking sides. I can see why advertisers were scared of that,” said Filotto. “Now, we’re seen more as a legitimate business, less as a pressure tactic.”
Frontenac has been able to cover its costs of operation with the money brought in from advertisements and donations, but the STIJM has been paying for the staff’s salary. Once the deal between Quebecor and the STIJM is hammered out, Frontenac will become independent of the union and will lose that funding.
“We’re really optimistic, we think the community wants us to survive,” said Filotto. “But we’ll see what happens when we’re off the union respirator. We’ll see how the patient reacts.”