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La Presse threatens union with closure By Mike King, The Gazette September 4, 2009 La Presse newspaper employees talk during preparations for a meeting for employees at the Palais des congrès in June 2009. La Presse newspaper employees talk during preparations for a meeting for employees at the Palais des congrès in June 2009. Photograph by: Phil Carpenter, Gazette file photo MONTREAL – La Presse, North America’s largest French-language broadsheet, will stop publication Dec. 1 if its 700 employees don’t give up $13 million in concessions between now and that date. Caroline Jamet, the 125-year-old newspaper’s vice-president of communications, confirmed publisher Guy Crevier sent the staff an email yesterday informing the workers they have three months to reach an agreement to avoid suspension of both the paper and its website, cyberpresse.ca. In acknowledging La Presse’s current business model “has no chance of surviving,” Crevier noted how management has cut its share of the $26 million needed to be reduced this year to continue operations and that contract negotiations must be sped up to get the other half from the 600 unionized workers. “We have to reduce our cost structure and the only missing link is the contribution of the employees,” Jamet told The Gazette. She said the main issue is the 32-hour, four-day work week that the company wants changed to 35 hours over five days because of the expense of extra staff for that fifth day. That move would likely result in the loss of about 100 jobs, but Jamet added retirements and voluntary departures could reduce the number of layoffs. Crevier, also president of Gesca Ltée – the Power Corp. of Canada subsidiary that owns and publishes La Presse and other French-language papers in the province and Ontario – listed what was done to cut $13 million: • Ceased publication of its Sunday paper June 28 • Reduced the size of the paper to reduce paper costs • Put a voluntary departure program in place • Concluded agreements with financial institutions for new financing, including to cover the “seriously underfunded” pension plan. He first announced to employees in June that, facing an anticipated $215 million deficit by 2013, the paper was seeking to cut costs by $26 million annually over the next five years. It was at that meeting the decision on the Sunday paper was made known. Union leader Hélène De Guise said the longer work week is one of the items being negotiated as well as the possibility of trimming employees’ vacation time. But she added the bargaining team wants to further analyze Crevier’s pronouncement before making any further comments. The last collective agreement expired Dec. 31. Crevier ended his missive stating: “The future of La Presse, your future, is in your hands. It’s up to you to decide.” Jamet, also spokesperson for Gesca, said the measures being taken at La Presse presently have no effect on the chain’s other dailies: Le Soleil in Quebec City, La Tribune in Sherbrooke, Le Nouvelliste in Trois-Rivières, La Voix de l’Est in Granby, Le Quotidien in Saguenay and Le Droit in Ottawa. It is up to the publishers at each of those papers to identify how to cut their costs, she added. In July, the Boston Globe’s union approved a package of $10 million in wage and benefits cuts after owner The New York Times had threatened earliler this year to close New England’s biggest paper unless major concessions were made. The same thing happened at the San Francisco Chronicle in March in order to avoid being closed by the Hearst Corp. [email protected] © Copyright © The Montreal Gazette