By: Nu Yang
In January 2009, Le Journal de Montréal, the largest French-language newspaper in Canada, locked out 253 employees, including its 140-person editorial staff, due to a union dispute resulting from failed negotiations to make the labor contract more flexible.
According to Steve Faguy, a Montréal freelance journalist who followed the conflict closely on his media blog, “Fagstein” (blog.fagstein.com), most of the dispute points were a result of management demands for changes to the existing contract. Those demands included increasing the workweek from 30 hours (4 days) to 37.5 hours (5 days) without extra pay, laying off 75 employees, a 25 percent pay cut for classified employees, a 20 percent reduction in benefits for all, clauses that would give new hires fewer rights than existing employees, and flexibility to reassign workers to do multimedia work for the website.
During the lockout, the paper was produced by managers and editors, who had to write, take photos, and update online news. Managing editor George Kalogerakis worked in production while editor-in-chief Dany Doucet, who had been a reporter for 18 years, returned to writing stories.
Meanwhile, locked-out workers created a rival publication, Rue Frontenac. Faguy reported that in October 2010, workers rejected a contract offer that would have kept only 50 of the locked-out employees, required Rue Frontenac to shut down, and prevented former workers from launching any other competing newspapers. The anti-competition clause was one of the main reasons the deal was rejected.
Negotiations continued until the end of February 2011, when locked-out workers finally accepted an offer. Faguy said the deal would last five years, and the Journal would hire back 62 workers. The rest would share a $20 million severance package. Kalogerakis said that although 42 jobs were promised in the editorial department, only 23 journalists returned.
Despite the lockout, Kalogerakis said readership increased to three times its previous level during the conflict. As a result of the dispute, the paper changed some policies, including letting reporters work on their newspaper pages out of the office to speed up the process. Reporters can now take photos and videos — something that wasn’t allowed by contract before. The paper also brought in a production hub to save money.
“It’s a complete renewal,” Kalogerakis said. “We don’t work the same way we used to anymore. The newsroom has changed and moved into a multimedia experience.”
Doucet added, “We are a much more open newsroom now.”
The paper recently launched a revamped website. For now, access is free, but Doucet said a paywall is planned to launch in spring.
Under the new contract, managers such as Doucet are still allowed to write stories and take photos. He is also able to hire freelancers and work with specialized writers that he said would keep the paper competitive among the six other dailies in Montréal.
Despite the long conflict, Doucet said he learned some valuable lessons. “Readers will still appreciate what we put in the paper if it is well done.
“It’s a new day for us,” he said. “We can only move forward and not go back into the past.”