The North Star


Strike in sight?

12 to 15-year wait for insurance coverage for Quebec liquor store employees

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Workers at Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) branches across Quebec have been negotiating a new collective agreement since January 2023. Following an increase in pressure tactics in May, which failed to achieve its desired result, workers adopted a strike mandate with 89% in favor on March 2, 2024.

In response to a 4% drop in SAQ revenues in 2023, the employer immediately attacked its employees' working conditions. It erased 64 positions while 70% of employees are still part-time, waiting indefinitely for a permanent position and access to basic insurance. Some will have to wait up to 15 years of service to qualify.

This is what Lisa Courtemanche, president of the SAQ worker's union (SEMB-SAQ), explained in an interview with North Star: "The SAQ is trying to explain itself by saying that the 64 positions were vacant, so it wouldn't hurt anyone, but that's just not true. They've hurt 48 workers who have been waiting 12, 13, 14, 15 years for a regular position. They've just told them 'you’re gonna wait another year, even two more years.’"

What's more, working conditions for a part-time employee are no longer as advantageous as they were several years ago:

"I knew the golden years, if you like. I come from a time when we were... Advantaged. Privileged. Our wages were more than competitive with minimum wages. There was plenty of work in the branches back then too. [...] We could accept precariousness because : 'if I worked 20 hours, if I managed to do my 20 hours a week, that meant going to work 40 hours somewhere else.’ We accepted precariousness. But now, in 2024, job insecurity doesn't work anymore. We're no longer able to pay our rent. Our salaries haven't kept up."

Martin Lachance, regional union delegate for Laurentides-Sud, also mentions during a discussion with the North Star the impact of work schedules on employees' living conditions.

"In the SAQ's low periods, a part-timer will work five to ten hours a week. In the high periods, like summer, Christmas, he'll get his 37 hours, but there's no hour guarantee, so he can't guarantee himself a budget the rest of the year. When you have a family life, or you're a single parent, you can't manage that. [...] So it's stressful for part-timers to be sat by the phone all the time. Do I stay close to work? Do I go for a walk with my kids? Do I wait in case my phone rings?"

During the first months of negotiations, the SAQ completely stonewalled workers' demands. As a result of the drop in income and the pressure caused by increased pressure tactics by union members, the SAQ's attitude quickly changed.

"To be honest, we've never had such a big lead as in the last four days. Before, the employer was closed to negotiations. There were even times when they cancelled sessions. Is it because Easter is coming up? Because Easter is the SAQ's second Christmas. It's extremely important for them: it's silly, but they make a lot of sales at Easter. [...] Are they afraid we'll be out next week? Is that why they're so open-minded? We’ll have to wait and see."

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