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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Montreal newspaper strikers use tabloid for pickets

Locked-out and striking employees of the Quebecor Inc. tabloid the Journal de Quebec marched on the newspaper's offices yesterday for the first time since the conflict began April 22. "This is the first time in 40 year existence of the Journal de Quebec that the employees have been in front of the building instead of inside," said Canadian Union of Public Employees staff rep Sylvain Blanchette.

The newspaper has kept publishing, using management employees and editorial material from the Journal de Montreal and agencies. Until now, there has been no picketing on the newspaper's offices, in an outlying industrial park.

Instead the employees are producing their own full-colour MediaMatinQuebec tabloid, distributing 40,000 free copies daily. The Journal de Quebec's circulation is over 100,000 copies daily. The union members unveiled their new banner, depicting the newspaper as a balloon losing its air, with a printing plant at Mirabel, its classified ads centre in Kanata, Ont. And, the banner says, the French-language paper is "Made in Toronto," where it has a backup newsroom at its sister paper, the Toronto Sun.

Quebecor won a court ruling declaring the union's previous banner, bearing the newspaper's logo, in breach of the company's intellectual property rights.

Last Friday, for the first time since editorial and office employees were locked out and printers voted to strike, the two sides met before a provincial conciliator.

According to Daniel Paquet, a member of the union negotiating team, the union side presented its counter-offer to the company representatives who asked for a 20-minute time-out but did not return to the table.

Donald Charette, news editor and the newspaper's spokesman in the conflict, said the employer wanted a written proposal and still has not received one.

"We are waiting for a signal," Charette said.

The company wants to extend the newspaper's four-day week to five and wants more platform flexibility, with reporters shooting videos and pictures some times, Charette.

Charette added that no editorial jobs would be lost, but the company is already contracting out its classified ads to a Kanata, Ont., call centre and printing jobs will be lost over time.

The newspaper spokesperson charged that the employees did not take negotiations seriously before the conflict because they were busy preparing to launch their own newspaper.

"They had already made their decision with MediaMatin," Charette said.

The union, noting that the Journal de Quebec, contrary to many other dailies across the continent, has been gaining circulation, dismissing management's claim it needs concessions.

The union newspaper is not selling ads, in response to a legal battle with Quebecor, which alleges the union is trying to compete with the Journal de Quebec.

But Jacques Tanguay, patriarch of one of Quebec City's leading family businesses, has said his furniture company Ameublements Tanguay, which used to run full-page ads in the Journal, has suspended its advertising in the paper for the duration of the strike.

Tanguay complains the Journal has become a Montreal paper.

Asked why the union hasn't set up a picket line, Paquet said a picket line in an industrial park would give the union no visibility and would be a waste of time.

"We have 40,000 picket signs a day," he said referring to the number of copies of MediaMatin union members give away each day.

"What we want is for the employer to sit down at the bargaining table to negotiate and as soon as possible," he said.