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Wednesday WTF: The craziness spreads in Le Journal de Montréal lockout

kim hart macneill

[This was meant to auto-post yesterday, but didn’t, for some reason. So it’s kind of “WTF Thursday” today…]

La Journal de Montreal / Rue Frontenac employees picket La Journals offices in Montreal. Quebecor Media Inc. lock-out 253 employees nearly one year ago.

La Journal de Montréal/ Rue Frontenac employees picket La Journal's offices in Montreal. Quebecor Media Inc. locked-out 253 employees nearly one year ago.

Reporters sans frontières has now waded into the mire that is the lock-out of employees at Le Journal de Montréal.

Unlike many public figures, who have thrown their hats in the union’s ring, RSF’s secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, sided with press freedom, and the public’s right to know about the day-to-day business of their elected politicians. The Montreal Gazette wrote about about Julliard’s Nov. 30 letter to the President of Quebec’s National Assembly:

Julliard says he was surprised to see Vallières side with the National Assembly press gallery’s decision to delay the accreditation of two Journal de Québec reporters because the owner of the paper, Quebecor, is embroiled in a lockout of reporters at the Journal de Montréal. Both are Quebecor-owned papers.

Montrealers are all too aware of the battle raging between Quebecor, Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, and the employees of the french-language daily, but the drama has only been popping up in the English papers recently, leaving les anglophones a little out of the loop.

Nearly a year ago, Quebecor media locked out 253 employees. The reasons for the lock-out varies, depending on who you ask. Pierre Karl Peladeau, Quebecor’s chief executive, says the lock-out resulted from employee resistance to out-sourcing all but editorial and production jobs in an attempt to make the Journal more web friendly. The union cites proposed contract changes, which included staff and wage cutbacks, and the especially contentious removal of a clause promising staff 100 percent job security, as their reason.

NDP, Bloc and Liberal politicians, most notably Michael Ignatieff, said they would not grant interviews to the paper until the dispute was resolved.

Le Journal de Montréal’s journalists and other employees banded together to form the online news site Rue Frontenac. The site’s name, cannon logo and tag line, “Par la bouche de nos crayons!” are a play on Governor Frontenac’s retort, memorialized in a Historic Minute,  that he would respond from the mouth of his cannons. A healthy union strike fund is estimated to be enough to pay employees 76 per cent of their salary for two full years—at which point Rue Frontenac may have enough advertisers to  stand on its own feet.

In the months that followed, employees picketed the Journal building, and management staff alleged they had been threatened. Quebecor responded  with a court injunction dictating the maximum number of picketers allowed at one time, and banned locked-out staff from entering the building, which didn’t stop them from rushing the building on the six month anniversary of the lock-out.

Flash forward to November, when things  got really dirty: Lyne Robitaille, a Quebecor Editor, called for two Rue Frontenac journalists to be stripped of their access to the National Assembly. The charge was that they were writing under Le Journal de Montréal accreditation—but not writing for the paper—because they were locked-out by Le Journal de Montréal management, which includes Lyne Robitaille.

Around the same time, the National Assembly denied Quebecor’s request for immediate accreditation for two Le Journal de Québec journalists, the idea being that accrediting them would allow Quebecor, and by proxy, Le Journal de Montréal, to work around the lockout and Quebec’s rules against replacement workers.

Where and when the lockout will end is anyone’s guess, but it’s not likely to be anytime soon. The National Post reported last week that the two sides have only sat down once since the begining of the lock-out.

Le Journal de Montréal is still publishing under the steam of management, freelancers and copy from Quebecor’s other holdings like free daily 24 heures and TVA television. And Rue Frontentac is building its own readership with no signs of giving up the fight. Given that Le Journal de Montréal was originally born out of the 1964 typographer’s union strike at another French daily, La Presse, the writing may already be on the wall.

[Photo credit: Rue Frontenac’s Facebook group]

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