Life After The Lock-Out

Two Years In, the Staff of Le Journal de Montréal Move On

Photo Erin Sparks
Photo Erin Sparks
Photo Erin Sparks

On March 8, 2009, 39-year-old cartoonist Marc Beaudet suffered his first ulcerative colitis crises—caused mainly by stress and anxiety—since his late teen years.
He would spend the next 10 days under close observation in a hospital before his internal bleeding got under control.
Under heavy morphine doses, he became addicted to the painkiller. Over the following year, Beaudet would spend $4,000 on medication alone, his health insurance having been cancelled by his employer.
Beaudet is one of the 253 employees of Le Journal de Montréal, who marked Jan. 24 as a special day.

It was the second anniversary of the lock-out that has changed their lives in many ways. From medical procedures to marital breakups, and from sold houses to new families and new careers, they have been through it all as a group.

Alain Décarie, a photographer, learned in February 2009 that he might be suffering from lung cancer. Unsure of his condition, doctors scheduled a major procedure for April 1. April came and the 53-year-old endured major surgery, which cost him $3,000. In a demonstration of how close the lockout has brought coworkers, his colleagues all chipped in $10 to help him pay for the procedure, which revealed no signs of cancer.

Life Goes On

The 731st day of the lockout turned out to be a happier day than the 365th for most employees. If many have struggled to face the professional and personal dilemmas this situation has put them in, serenity now seemed to be the most widespread emotion.

Many former Journal employees found consolation in their new project: Rue Frontenac, a publication that started out as a tool for protest, has now become a well-known media outlet. It is almost exclusively web-based, but a paper copy is produced once a week. Rue Frontenac was an escape for the employees that could not cope with the reality of the lockout.

Diane Dupont, who used to work for the advertisement section and is the treasurer for the Journal union Syndicat des Travailleurs de l’information du Journal de Montréal, is another Rue Frontenac employee. She admits she was simply incapable of being anywhere other than Rue Frontenac’s offices, located next to Le Journal de Montréal on Frontenac Street during the first six months following the lockout.

“I am usually a very solitary person. I have lived alone for many years, and I am happy that way,” said Dupont. “When the lockout was declared on Jan. 24, the first thing I did was drive to [Rue Frontenac’s offices] and from then on I was here as early as 6:30 a.m. up until 11:00 p.m., sometimes even on weekends. My sleep hours were midnight to 4 a.m. and that was it. I just felt useful here. There was always something to do. At home, it was despair.”

Dupont, a cheerful and smiling woman in her early fifties, had worked at Le Journal for 35 years before the lockout began. Her situation is similar to most of her colleagues in her section: she is too young to retire, despite having more than 30 years of dedication to the paper she loved. She became very emotional when discussing the position the lockout has put her in.

“The worst part of being involved in the lockout for me is the complete loss of identity. I went to the dentist in September and I filled in this basic information sheet they gave me. Tears started rolling down my cheeks when I realized I had no answer to the question ‘occupation.’ I no longer have a profession and there is no future for me. I am going backward,” said the woman who admitted she had to take out an additional mortgage on her condo during the lockout.

Other staff members shared her feeling of vulnerability.

“[There are only] four [newspaper] cartoonists in the province. Four!” said Beaudet. “If I no longer work for Le Journal, I have no future. If I did not have Rue Frontenac to keep on doing what I live for, I honestly do not know where I would be today.”

“Of course some of us have left the ship by now,” said Yvon Laprade, a 54-year-old journalist. “Two years of lockout, with a question marked future is not easy, neither for us nor for our families.”

Pillars of the company are starting to leave for competing publications and others are switching to the other side of the mirror, accepting jobs as public relations officers, but Laprade believes the camraderie between the locked out employees is one of the most striking features of the conflict. However, that not mean all is always picture perfect.

Getting Help

Though Le Journal’s parent company Quebecor offered six free consultations with psychologists to their locked out employees during the first three months of conflict, it wasn’t enough for everyone, according to Beaudet.

“I consulted for a year,” said the cartoonist. “I was forcing myself to look at what the guy replacing me—who pretty much took my life from me—was doing. I was torturing myself. My job ain’t easy, I need to make people laugh when my own life is falling apart! I’m a very calm and patient person and, suddenly, I found myself [throwing] a fit at my four year-old because he dropped his glass of milk on the floor by accident. This just wasn’t me.

“I lost all contact with my friends and even colleagues. I just spent all my time home, alone, either in bed in pain or drawing as an escape. I had a new car to meet payments for and a baby to take care of. I also had to pay for all sorts of treatments from hypnosis to acupuncture to psychologists in hope of healing. At some point, I was so sick that I was taking four types of medications: anti-inflammatory, painkillers, antidepressants and—since the other three were making me queasy—anti-queasy pills as well.”

It’s not like Beaudet and his colleagues didn’t see the conflict coming; it’s simply that no one can properly prepare for being “tossed away like garbage and treated that way.” The number of executives at Le Journal more than doubled in the year preceding the lock-out, something the commissioners in Quebec’s National Assembly might consider when they re-evaluate anti-scab laws this February.

To better deal with the intense stress, anxiety and emotions of 253 different people, a mutual-aid committee was created. Listening to others is their way of avoiding illness in times of despair.

“There are bigger and smaller winners and losers in all situations. We need to be there to listen and help so that the tension in us does not explode. We want to [promote] expression and avoid isolation and exclusion,” said group leader Gilles Bélanger, responsible for regional developments of the mutual-aid committee in the Montreal region for the Confédération des syndicats nationaux.

“If I no longer work for Le Journal, I have no future. If I did not have Rue Frontenac to keep on doing what I live for, I honestly do not know where I would be today.”

–Marc Beaudet,
Rue Frontenac Cartoonist

Finding Positives

It would be wrong to say the lockout has only brought tears. Valérie Dufour, a political affairs journalist for seven years at Le Journal, used the newly acquired time to start a family, as did her colleagues Maude Goyer, Marilou Séguin and Myriam Lafrenière.

Despite the salary cuts—employees get 75 percent of their salaries as part of a union fund created in 1973—Dufour was able to put aside the necessary budget for an artificial insemination. She ensures that she, her partner, and her daughter Beatrice, have no problem making ends meet. The conflict, though present, is not all they dedicate attention to.

“I was so mad during the first days of lockout; so mad at how we were being treated, so mad at being sent in the streets by the employer I gave so much to. I screamed and yelled a lot. I’ve calmed down since then. I’ve realized there was much more I could do for myself. This conduct would not have led me anywhere,” she explained, holding Béatrice in her hands.

Her colleague Martin Bouffard, a photographer at Le Journal since 2003, made one of his own dreams a reality during the lockout. He crossed the Atlantic from the Virgin Islands to Portugal on a sailboat. Bouffard, father of a 14-year-old daughter, admits this experience was life changing.

“We had a hard time at home,” he said of the first months of the lockout. “We even asked a friend to act as a mediator [a few] times. I was very angry and I had to mourn for my life at Le Journal; my wife is an executive in her own company, and we just could not understand each other. Once I started accepting contracts again, we both felt much better. I am a very active and dynamic person. I need projects to stimulate me.”

Bouffard has since reached agreements with many clients, including four NHL teams he shoots when they are in town. At hockey games, more often than not he works next to his former boss. He now owns his own company as a cameraman, photographer and editor.

“In a sense, the lockout has been a good thing for me. I was forced to clear my debts, re-evaluate my professional and personal life and start on a new path with my career,” he said. One thing is clear to him—he has definitely crossed Le Journal out of his life.

Unlike Décarie, Beaudet hasn’t yet fully recovered from his illness. He admits that at the moment, he cannot see himself going back either. When his two little boys, 4 year-old Raphaël and Alexis, born six months before the lock-out, repeated an ad they had just heard on radio on their way back from daycare two weeks ago, Bouffard’ heart twitched—and he still has goosebumps recalling the event.

“They both repeated the name Le Journal de Montréal twice—a name they had never mentioned before. They asked me what Le Journal was… I almost started crying. I mean, they can’t understand. What will I
be after all this? The answer is, I simply do not know.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 21, published February 1, 2011.