The owners of a McDonald's in nearby St-Hubert say bad location, not the threat of a union, is why they're closing what was poised to become the chain's first organized restaurant in Canada. Tom and Mike Cappelli, who own five other McDonald's outlets, say the St-Hubert franchise was a financial drain on their business. "This restaurant is 18- or 20-years-old," said MikeCappelli. "Communities grow up, change, traffic flow changes. Basically, it wasnot a good site."
The 60 mostly young employees were notified by letter that they'd be out of work as of midnight Friday. Not many Quebecers were buying the owners' reason forthe shutdown, with the notable exception of the provincial LaborDepartment. "Until there is proof to the contrary, the owners say it's a business decision," Robert Charles Longpre, an aide to Labor Minister Matthias Rioux, said from Quebec City. "And the way they make their case, we have to believe them or else treat them as liars."
The St-Hubert restaurant was one of two Montreal-area outlets awaiting union accreditation from the Teamsters union. "There is no doubt in my mind that they are closing because of our presence," said Clement Godbout, head of the Quebec Federation of Labor.
Godbout wants Quebec to investigate the shutdown for unfair labor practices. The union movement may also call for a boycott of McDonald's for its anti-union attitude. He said the Cappellis have been fighting the union drive in court since December 1996, trying all kinds of stalling tactics. "When they saw that it was a possibility for us to get the certification in March, they decided to close. "It's not a surprise to me but it's always discouraging to see that kind of attitude to young people."
To date, no McDonald's restaurant is unionized in NorthAmerica. Other Canadian outlets in Longueuil and Shawinigan, Que., and Orangeville, Ont., have tried, but failed to form unions.
McDonald patron Rosie Ouellette shared the view the closure was prompted by the union threat. "You can't tell me there isn't a McDonald's that's doing well, with all the kids who flock to it," Ouellette said outside the St-Hubert franchise.
Employee Jean-Claude Menard said workers decided to form a union at the St-Hubert restaurant because working conditions deteriorated not long after the Cappellis took over two years ago. "Shifts were changed, pressure was put on some employees," he said outside the restaurant. "Even though I had four years' seniority, I couldn't get more than 16 or 18 hours of work a week."
Godbout said the accreditation process will continue. "We want to show the workers they were right" to go for a union.
Montreal, 14 Feb 1998
Friday the 13th brought bad luck to McDonald's workers in St-Hubert, Quebec. Midnight saw management permanently close the store they were close to unionizing.
According to McDonald's officials, the store was closed because it had never been profitable. The fact that the workers were due to gain accreditation with the Teamsters Union in just a few weeks had absolutely nothing to do with it.
"It's a wildcat closure!" fumed Jacques Godbout, president of the FTQ (Quebec Federation of Workers).
For Godbout the fight is not yet over: "We have not ruled out calling for a boycott of McDonald's in Quebec." A decision will be announced at a press conference on Tuesday. Added Godbout, "McDo is rapidly losing ground in public opinion. They might find their decision to be rather painful."
At McDonald's headquarters, Barbara Thompson affirmed, "This was a financial decision. The franchise has existed for 17 years and has always had a low volume of business. It was losing money before the arrival of the union." Teamsters rep Henri van Meerbeck doesn't believe it, "I pass by the restaurant everyday and the parking lot is always full."
Even the workers were taken by surprise, informed only 24 hours before the closure. This is a violation of Quebec law which demands 7 days notice. Nonetheless, the workers were compensated with two months salary plus a seniority bonus.
This would have been the first unionized McDonald's in Canada. Still, every black cloud has a silver lining. There is now one less McDo in Quebec.