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Since the month of May, 22 branches of the Société Québécoise Du Cannabis have been on work stoppage to protest wage offers that workers are taking "as if they were spitting in our faces." In addition to sales, SQDC advisors have "an important role in public health," explains Lucas Gizard, an employee at a Montreal branch. "When the government sees us as poor people, the message it sends is that it doesn't care about the health of Quebecers."
The SQDC is proposing a 30-cent increase to its employees in the context of major inflation, taking them from $17.05 to $17.35 an hour. "With the latest studies that have been done, we see that at $17 an hour, we are below the poverty line if we can't work 40 hours or more." The cap is $23 after six years and "knowing that we don't know what's going to happen in the next few years, that's very low."
The months leading up to the strike were marked by legal pressure tactics, such as wearing shorts instead of pants. "The employer decided to tell its managers not to accept people in shorts because it was supposedly not 'safe,'" Gizard told the North Star. The company would send employees home without pay if they violated the uniform and never said what the risk was.
It was these events and the provincial government's stalling of negotiations that prompted the employees to resort to a work stoppage. "The government is negotiating the wrong way. They told us: the SQDC has nothing to do with the SAQ. However, in each injunction, it is clearly written that we are a subsidiary of the SAQ!"
"We are simply asking to be paid like an SAQ cashier, not even a consultant, which is $20 to $21. Despite the cheap shots, we don't want to go back to work with a salary that doesn't pay for more than rent and food." He adds, "We have a mission to inform, to advise, but also to prevent. There are dangers like for someone who, for example, has a history of schizophrenia in their family, it can activate them."
"Our strike is symptomatic of our times. The SQDC makes $220 million a year and would rather stick to its ideology and lose $6 million last quarter than raise our salaries. Jacques Farcy, the director, earns $300,000 a year and a starting employee earns $24,000. He could take the offer, but no, they want to make more money."
"This salary gap is not justified. We have no form of transparency, he does not listen to our advice, he does not even talk to the ministery to give them feedback from consumers! The gap is not justified either by his experience as a manager, because since his arrival, I have not seen any improvement, it's even the opposite. And he has no knowledge of cannabis. I honestly don't think he works more than 8 hours a day or that his job is 10 times better than ours."
All of this is representative of SQDC's general attitude towards its employees. Lucas Gizard testifies that when he was hired, he "was lured by career promises, which were simply lies, because you can't grow in SQDC without cronyism. I've seen colleagues who were promised positions of responsibility and never got them, because the director preferred to hire her friend."
"In the end, we get treated, and I quote the SQDC: 'like cashiers at Costco.' It denigrates customer service and all the skills it takes and our public health mission. It's also an insult to all the workers who are underpaid to do their jobs, whether it's Walmart or Costco, and all this from people who make $200,000 to $300,000 a year."