40,000 Daily Copies
137 Locked-Out Employees
115 Striking Staffers
12 Replacement Workers
1 Powerful Union Tactic
The inside story of the labour-management conflict at Le Journal de Québec
A burly security guard lifts a panel of metal fencing, carries it a couple of feet, and sets it down next to another panel. It’s Sunday, April 22, 2007, and he’s one of about 10 guards piecing together a barrier around a concrete and pink-brick building in an industrial Quebec City neighbourhood. A white sign mounted on the building’s facade reads “Le Journal de Québec: N° 1, Bravo et merci!” thanking the staff for making the daily the most popular paper in the city.
The guards, who wear coats with “Sécurité Kolossal” across the back, are almost finished laying out the line that Journal de Québec employees are not to cross. Attached to the fence is a lockout notice-as of 9 a.m., Sun Media Corporation, a subsidiary of Quebecor Inc., has prohibited 137 editorial and office staff from coming to work. Later that same day, the 115 members of the printing staff who have also been in negotiations will vote to join their colleagues and declare a strike, leaving three union groups-totalling 252 employees-on the street.
The next morning, the managers bus in past the metal fence and the security guards. Camera crews and reporters from other media organizations expected sign-wielding workers, but only Denis Bolduc, the spokesperson for the three union groups, shows up. A thickset and passionate man, Bolduc often seems to be on the verge of tears, either from anger or excitement. Addressing the cameras, he reproaches the employer.
“There’s no picket line today at LeJournal de Québec,” he says. “It’s a choice we made to show how ridiculous the situation is.”
Puzzled, the local media try to find the locked-out workers and spot them all over town-covering press conferences, taking pictures and asking questions as they normally would. Eric Thibault is at the courthouse following a story. He brushes off reporters’ inquiries about why he is there and not picketing. When a TV camera turns his way, he smiles enigmatically. Quebec City’s airwaves are awash with rumors about what the employees are up to. Could they be creating a blog? A weekly newsletter?
Two days after the lockout started, union members appear all over town handing out 40,000 copies of the city’s first free daily, MédiaMatin Québec, to commuters in their cars and on buses, as well as delivering copies to radio stations, getting airtime on all of the morning shows. MédiaMatin is a 24-page tabloid with big colour pictures and local stories. The front page of the first issue boasts an attention-grabbing photo of a tattooed guy in a white undershirt, holding his clenched fist to the camera, his knuckles scarred with red wounds and stitch marks. He’s wearing a gold and silver ring, and chains around his wrist and neck. The headline reads: “Quebec street gangs-enemy number one.”
The story, written by Thibault, highlights the creation of a special police squad to deal with street gangs. It’s an appropriate symbol. This first edition marked a standoff that would last longer than anyone expected, a bare-knuckled brawl between Sun Media’s Le Journal de Québec-number one,bravo et merci-andMédiaMatin, the upstart paper that became Sun Media’s, and Quebecor’s, bête noir.
By adamantly refusing to stop doing their jobs, the employees made a lot more noise than they would have marching around the building with signs and loudspeakers. New communications technology has reduced picket lines into little more than symbolic gestures because replacement workers no longer need to physically cross them. MédiaMatin was a creative and intelligent response. It challenged Quebecor by remaining on the beat and maintaining the strong connection to the city that newspaper journalists forge. The employees didn’t deprive their readers by cutting off services-instead they gave them more to read since Le Journal also kept publishing during the strike. The reporters maintained relationships with sources and continued to cover local stories. Finally, they kept tabs on the people who were doing their jobs but who never needed to set foot in the concrete and pink-brick building in that industrial neighbourhood of Quebec City. Facing a threat to their livelihoods and their craft, the employees showed everyone just how vital their work was to the city.
o read the rest of this story, please see our ebook anthology: RRJ in Review: 30 Years of Watching the Watchdogs.
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