Journal de Québec workers have been touring Canada since Mar. 12, telling union audiences about their struggle against Quebecor/Sun Media - a struggle that will be a year old April 22.
The 252 workers are members of three CUPE locals. There are 68 office workers, 115 printing staff, and 69 editorial employees.
The dispute began April 22, 2007 when Quebecor/Sun Media Corporation locked out office and editorial staff of the Quebec City newspaper. The paper’s printers soon joined the job action.
On the surface, the company’s decision to lock out the employees of a profitable newspaper with a 40 year history of labour peace would seem bizarre. But beneath the company’s strange and spiteful veneer, there lies an even more sinister motivation: more profit, fewer voices in the media.
Nine lockouts during the last six years
Quebecor seems determined to shed its past as a company that could abide - even cooperate profitably with unions.
In Quebec, Quebecor/Sun Media has provoked nine lockouts during the last six years. Add in Canada and that number rises to 12.
|Journal de Montréal (Advertising and shipping—two bargaining units)||October 11, 1993 to March 17, 1994 *||110.5 days||210 workers|
|Vidéotron Telecom||April 30 to July 16, 2002||78 days||112 workers|
|Vidéotron Montréal*||May 8, 2002 to May 2, 2003||360 days||1,800 workers|
|Vidéotron Québec*||May 8, 2002 to May 2, 2003||360 days||313 workers|
|TVA Montréal *||July 3 to July 9, 2003||7 workers||7 days|
|TVA Estrie||January 30 to April 5, 2004||67 days||6 workers|
|Journal de Montréal (Sales)||February 9 to March 15, 2004||36 days||44 workers|
|Journal de Montréal (Pressiers)** press operators, mechanics, electricians and material handlers||October 22, 2006 to February 12, 2007||114 days||115 workers|
|Journal de Montréal (Préparation)||September 19 to February 6, 1994||140 days||150 workers|
|Journal de Montréal (Pressiers)||October 11, 1993 to March 8, 1994||148 days||148 workers|
|Journal de Québec (Office)||April 22, 2007 ongoing||323 days||68 workers|
|Journal de Québec (Editorial)||April 22, 2007 ongoing||323 days||69 workers|
History of the conflict
Not only had they never even taken a strike vote since the paper was founded in 1967, workers at le Journal de Québec had even agreed to concessions in 2005 to help their employer when competitor Le Soleil began publishing as a tabloid.
When the company locked out its workers the newspaper was making $25 million dollars and was the leading daily in Quebec City.
And its circulation was growing - more than any other daily with circulation greater than 100,000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
But the company clearly had other plans.
In 2006 (and at the start of 2007), the employer hired 14 extra managers, set up a ghost newsroom on the third floor of the Toronto Sun, and relocated its classified ad section to Kanata, an Ottawa suburb. During bargaining, management changed the locks, installed new cameras, recruited security guards and fired the information technology staff.
Média Matin Québec is born
Two days after the lockout begain, the first copies of Média Matin Québec hit the streets, distributed - for free - by union members. The workers have never set up picket lines.
Despite Quebecor/Sun Media Corporation’s numerous court challenges against the locked out workers’ paper, its circulation continues to grow.
Despite the conflict, the Journal de Québec continues to be published. It is usually printed at Mirabel not Quebec City.
Union wins anti-scab law complaints
For its part, the union has successfully enforced Québec’s ban on strikebreaking. On Aug. 23, 2007, the Quebec Labour Board ordered the Journal de Québec to stop using four replacement workers.
The union filed new complaints in Nov. 2007 over 17 other replacement workers. The labour board has not ruled on these complaints.
One of the workers listed in the Nov. 2007 complaints - Hubert Lapointe - was charged with contempt of court for violating a publication ban on printing the name of a victim of a sexual assault. Lapointe goes to trial in April.
The stakes at the Journal de Québec
Bargaining between the union and the employer has been sporadic, which is not surprising, given how far apart the two sides are.
Common issues for the three groups
Hours of work and workweek: the normal workweek is 32 hours in 4 days. The four-day workweek is the norm in the other major French-language newspapers in Québec (La Presse, Le Soleil, Journal de Montréal). The employer is asking for a 37.5 hour, five-day work week, without additional compensation. This represents a 17% wage cut.
Wages: the employer is offering 2.5% annually over three years. (The union is demanding 3% annually.)
Group insurance: the employer is demanding a 600% increase in the employee contribution to the plan.
The employer is demanding a doctor’s note to justify the first sick day.
The office group
The 68 office group workers are members of CUPE 2808. The employer wants to eliminate restrictions on contracting-out. Management want to allow the elimination of positions following contracting-out and centralization of services. These changes mean 39 out of 68 employees will lose their jobs.
The employer wants to close the classified advertising service within three months of signing the collective agreement. After presenting its bargaining proposals, the employer fired the information technology staff. Since the lockout began, the Journal’s classified ads have been handled in Kanata, Ontario.
The employer proposal for buyouts would give employees with less than 16 years of seniority less than the current collective agreement. Part-time and temporary employees would not receive any compensation. The employer’s proposals could lead to the disappearance of the office group.
The employer is calculating pay equity as 4% of the 2006 payroll, claiming that this is in compliance with provincial pay equity laws. However, this proposal is illegal.
The union is demanding talks about the organization of classified advertising work. It wants to maximize the use of personnel, change the working conditions for temps, set up a recall list, and modify the wage scale.
The printing group
The 115 printing workers are members of CUPE 1872. Their employer is going ahead with a $2 million investment to optimize the work in its printing operations. This technological change would cost 31 permanent jobs out of 75.
The employer would eliminate current provisions for “early departure”. (The Journal is printed at night. Right now, when the work is done, the employees are authorized to leave work. This is an incentive to get the paper out quickly.)
The employer wants editorial page layout moved from printing to the editorial department, but won’t also transfer the printing employees.
The employer wants unrestricted contracting-out of sections of the paper.
The employer also wants to pay printers 30% less when they’re doing commercial work with the new printing equipment.
The employer’s buyout package would give workers with fewer than 16 years seniority less than what they have in the current agreement, and would givepart-time, temporary, and casual employees nothing.
The union wants to bargain technological change.
The union wants union members doing managerial work to be replaced.
The union wants air conditioning and humidifiers in the printing and shipping departments.
The union is demanding a reassessment of employees who work on call.
The union is demanding an increase in bonuses.
The 69 editorial workers are members of CUPE 1450. The employer wants to merge the sports and general news desks.
The employer also wants to reprint entire pages from other Quebecor Media papers.
These first two demands - and demand for a five-day workweek - would reduce the workforce. The employer would also not fill vacant positions.
The employer wants to allow “multi-platforming” and the publication of Journal de Québec content in all other Quebecor media (Internet, TV, etc.). Management wants journalists to also use cameras, video cameras, video editing suites, sound recordings, etc. to gather information for publication in the various Quebecor media.
The employer is demanding the elimination of a 25% increase applied to vacation pay.
The employer wants to create of a ‘centre of excellence’ for provincial and federal political coverage for French-language Sun Media newspapers. The union is demanding more details about the center and its implications for the editorial staff.
The union is also demanding a bonus for employees whose work hours vary; rules for using freelancers that maximize work done by in-house, unionized journalists; greater union involvement in assigning special projects; up-to-date photographic and technical equipment. The employer has said ‘no’.
The union is demanding an increase to bonuses and allowances.
The union wants a recall list for temporary workers are used as well as a review of their work and the working conditions.