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October 21, 2003

Labour leader brought fairness, dignity to table

John Belcarz dies of cancer. Montreal Newspaper Guild's local president first joined The Gazette as district manager.


As a labour leader, John Belcarz was a shrewd negotiator who could walk away from a tough bargaining session and still have friends on both sides of the table.

Belcarz, local president of the Montreal Newspaper Guild, which represents The Gazette's 297 unionized employees, died of cancer yesterday in Montreal General Hospital. He was 51.

Friends and colleagues spoke of a warm, solid and patient man who was highly independent, yet reasoned and fair in his approach, able to shrug off criticism with a hearty laugh.

In spite of his illness, Belcarz was at work on union business as recently as Thursday.

"He was known, respected and loved throughout the Guild in the United States and Canada, and in the Communications Workers of America, not just for his sharp sense of the possible, but for his wonderful human qualities," said Jan Ravensbergen, the local Guild's first vice-president.

Gazette publisher Larry Smith described Belcarz as someone who had an intuitive grasp of the big picture. "At the end of the day, you could always count on his integrity to work for an agreement that made both sides happy," Smith said.

Jean-Pierre Tremblay, the newspaper's chief labour relations negotiator, said although he and Belcarz often did not see eye to eye during contract talks, they remained personal friends for more than 20 years.

"He had a very high sense of ethics. He was very forthright, and always very professional," Tremblay said.

"You could walk to the bank on his word. He was someone you could trust at all times."

Peter Stockland, The Gazette's editor-in-chief, said Belcarz was devoted to the service of his membership. "His first concern, even in the face of death, was to work for those he served. He worked to make things work fairly, justly and with dignity."

John Richard Belcarz, the son of Polish immigrants, was born in Montreal on Jan. 16, 1952. He grew up in St. Michel, where he attended John F. Kennedy High School.

By the time Belcarz was 19, he was managing the Ponderosa Steak House in Cornwall, Ont.

"Even at that age he was very confident, very diligent," said John Hall, now a Toronto consultant, who worked for Belcarz in the 1970s. "He was really passionate — a hands-on guy who wanted to make a difference."

In 1974, Belcarz married Mary Jankowiak.

Belcarz was a devoted family man whose eyes always sparkled when he spoke of their two sons.

In 1979, Belcarz joined The Gazette as a district manager; his job was to see the paper was delivered each day. He became a member of the Guild's executive committee in 1980, and as an experienced manager brought a new perspective to the table.

When the newspaper eliminated its district managers in 1998, Belcarz became an independent distributor. Although he was no longer on the Gazette payroll, he was held in such high esteem he was elected Guild president that same year.

The funeral is scheduled to be held Thursday.

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