Employees Rally to Save Team

About 150 employees of the Montreal Expos baseball organization made a pitch to the provincial government yesterday to save the franchise. Representatives of an estimated 1,500 seasonal and full-time workers demonstrated in front of the downtown Hydro-Quebec building, which houses Premier Lucien Bouchard's Montreal office.

Armed with letters of support from small businesses with contracts to supply goods and services to the Expos, the demonstrators wanted Bouchard to change his stand on offering government help to keep the team in town.

Jean-Simon Bibeau stressed the valuable experience that everyone from students to retirees gain by working with the organization, then led everyone in singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. He and fellow spokesman Jean-Sebastien Brault then went in to deliver a letter to Bouchard but the premier was in the Gaspe at the time and they left it with a security guard.

Besides the threat of Expos employees - 80 per cent of them part-time workers - losing their jobs if the club leaves, some businesses would also suffer and more layoffs would result, the demonstrators' representatives and letters by business owners claim.

"I have been supplying products to the Expos since the beginning and I know the loss of the team would hurt my business and other similar businesses in Quebec," John Lee, president of J.F. Sports Canada, wrote in his letter.

"The financial impact on our company, as well as on the entire city as a whole, would be extensive," Waleed Zakem of Bulletin Express said in another letter.

"As a Canadian Major League Baseball licensee, this would affect our business significantly as there are only two Canadian teams, who are the bulk of our business in Canada," said Paul Lewicki, sales manager of Ultra Innovations, in his letter of support.

Martin Metivier, special-projects director for Boum Communications Media, said the departure of the Expos would be a big loss that could threaten the future of his company.

"The numerous orders in 1997 and 1998 represent about 50 per cent of our business," he said. "Therefore, the loss of the sport concession would also threaten three jobs."

But despite Bouchard's firm refusal not to invest any public money into a proposed downtown ball park, weak response from the private sector to fund such a stadium and now the strong possibility of losing popular manager Felipe Alou, the workers remain optimistic about their fate.

Twenty-year employee Bill Dagenais, a ticket-sales representative, said the inside talk is that there is encouraging movement in advance seat sales.

"Things are picking up and it looks like businesspeople are finally waking up to reality," he said. "I'm expecting them to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the 11th hour."

Club hostess Diane Ciarlo, a 15-year veteran with the Expos, is also "expecting a good surprise." Nathalie Forget has been with the organization for the past three years and said that her co-workers "are doing the best we can and are putting in so much effort (to keep the Expos in Montreal). "We're a family and the solidarity is there."

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