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The situation is looking grim for the 214 workers at Vidéotron - Gatineau, trapped in a protracted dispute. The company prevented its workers from coming to work this morning in retaliation for the October 18 rejection of a management offer by members of their union, Syndicat des employés de Vidéotron (SEVL-SCFP 2815). Quebec oligarch Pierre-Karl Péladeau's company is once again planning to increase outsourcing and relocate jobs abroad.
Union president Nick Mingione explains that "the use of lockouts is never too far away for this employer, who has used the practice too many times over the years." Québécor, Vidéotron's parent company, is notorious for throwing its workers out on the street until they accept its conditions. This latest lockout is a painful reminder of the January 2009 lockout at Journal de Montréal, owned by PKP, which lasted 764 days, sparking widespread outrage. In 2015, he also expelled workers from his newspaper printing plant.
In contrast, workers at Vidéotron - Gatineau say they want not only to keep, but to develop good jobs, and are firmly opposed to outsourcing and offshoring, two major sticking points in the negotiations. Union members believe that Vidéotron, a highly profitable company that receives substantial government subsidies, should serve the community better.
Not all information on subsidies received by Québécor is readily available to the public. However, in 2021, the Quebec government injected $258 million into Videotron to expand its coverage in rural areas. This was in addition to previous federal assistance of nearly $50 million in 2020, intended to offset the impacts of COVID-19 on the company. In addition, in 2020, Québécor had benefited from substantial tax credits to support news journalism ($12.6 million) and digital transition ($8.5 million). In 2018, it was estimated that the company received at least $14 million in direct subsidies each year.
In 2021, Québécor made a considerable profit of $1.28 billion. These are in part due to government subsidies and tax benefits financed by the taxes of Canadian workers. However, they have no decision-making power in the telecommunications giant's shares.
These figures contrast sharply with Videotron's wage offer, rejected on September 12, which proposed a freeze on increases in 2021, followed by a meager increase of 2% per year between 2022 and 2026, and 1.5% in 2027. The union, meanwhile, was proposing a reasonable offer in line with inflation, asking for 4% annual increases from 2021 to 2023, and 2% (with adjustment to the Consumer Price Index) for 2024 and 2025.
On Sunday, October 29, the union announced that, despite lengthy mediation sessions, negotiations between the parties had failed to reach a resolution. Workers at Vidéotron - Gatineau have been without a contract since August 31, 2020, and negotiations to renew it have been at an impasse ever since.
The decision to launch this lockout will have dramatic consequences for the families of the affected workers. Patrick Gloutney, President of SCFP in Quebec, declared that "this unfortunate decision by the employer is pushing 214 families onto the street. Proud workers who will have to find ways to make ends meet as inflation hits hard."
In response, Mr. Gloutney called on the federal government to introduce anti-scab legislation as soon as possible, prohibiting the employment of low-cost, less-trained replacement workers during strikes and lockouts. Workers under federal jurisdiction, such as those at Vidéotron - Gatineau, enjoy no such protection, putting the powerful company in a disproportionately powerful bargaining position.