Journal de Montréal lockout hits 700th day

The union for 253 locked-out journalists and staff at Le Journal de Montréal says it has little hope the labour dispute will end anytime soon.

With journalists and office staff at Le Journal de Montréal reaching the 700th day of a lockout, their union says it has little hope the newspaper's labour dispute will end anytime soon.

Management at Le Journal de Montréal wants to drastically overhaul the newsroom.

The 253 newsroom staff have been kept off the job since their most recent collective agreement expired in January 2009.

The latest offer from the Journal's owner, Quebec Media Inc., would have eliminated 80 per cent of their positions, prolonged the work week and cut benefits. Union members rejected it in October by a vote of nearly 90 per cent.

Since then, negotiations have proceeded at a snail's pace, said Raybald Leblanc, president of the Syndicat des travailleurs de l'information du Journal de Montréal, the union for editorial employees.

At this stage in the dispute, the only people who can shake up the deadlock are the newspaper's advertisers, Leblanc said. He said a campaign launched in October to have advertisers boycott the tabloid, which is still publishing daily, is starting to bear fruit.

"It's been about two months since it [the campaign] was launched and just yesterday, some companies told us they don't intend to renew their advertising contracts with the Journal. That's the good news. It's a big financial pressure tactic."

In February, Leblanc will take part in a provincial commission looking to Quebec's "anti-scab" law, which dates from the 1970s and, he said, needs updating for the digital age. The union had sued the newspaper over its ongoing use of freelancers and wire stories, saying they constituted illegal replacement  labour, but a court rejected that argument.

"This will be the chance we hoped for to show that Quebec's anti-scab law doesn't work," Leblanc said. "It's an outdated law with big gaps." 

The union has started up a rival online and print publication called Rue Frontenac, after the street address of the Journal de Montréal's offices.

Quebecor says the Journal needs drastic changes to make it more efficient and beef up its online presence.