Teamsters taking another run at a McDonald's outlet

By Konrad Yakabuski

Toronto Globe and Mail; 6th March 1997

Teamsters try again at McDonald's

The Teamsters union is confident that this time it will succeed in unionizing a McDonald's Restaurants outlet in Saint-Hubert, Que. If it is, the workers will be the first McDonald's employees in North America to unionize. Two previous drives, in 1993 and 1994, failed. In the past the fast-food giant has vigorously resisted unionization. Yesterday, in a statement, the owners of the Saint-Hubert franchise said they will "continue to maintain an open-door policy" with their employees.

Employees at a McDonald's restaurant near Montreal hope to succeed where their forerunners twice failed by asking Quebec's Ministry of Labour to recognize their union.

If successful, the 62 workers at the fast-food franchise in St-Hubert, Que., will become the first McDonald's employees in North America to unionize. Two previous union drives--in 1993 and 1994--failed to win support from a majority of employees at McDonald's outlets in Longueuil, Que., and Orangeville, Ont.

Toronto-based McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Ltd. and its franchisees have vigorously resisted unionization. During previous attempts to organize, militant workers charged that their hours were cut to make way for more docile employees.

The employer has also stalled unionization on technical grounds, objecting, for example, to the size of the bargaining unit.

But local 973 of the Teamsters Union, which is seeking certification on behalf of the St-Hubert restaurant workers, is confident of victory this time and expects to organize employees at at least a dozen more McDonald's outlets in the region within weeks.

Fifty-one of the 62 workers--or 82 per cent of the St-Hubert restaurant's work force--signed the request for union certification, Teamsters officials said at a press conference in Montreal yesterday.

That compares with only 53 per cent of the workers who sought certification with an affiliate of the Quebec Federation of Labour in 1993 at the Longueuil outlet. By the time Quebec's Labour Ministry ordered a vote on the request, however, support among employees had dropped to barely 40 per cent.

"The difference this time around is that we made sure we had a solid majority from the start," said Louis Fournier, a spokesman for the labour federation to which the Quebec Teamsters belong. "So, we're confident that it will go through this time."

Mr. Fournier added that employee turnover at the Longueuil outlet, which is on Montreal's South Shore, was very high, because the majority of its workers were students. Many of those behind the union drive had left before the matter was put to a formal vote, he said.

The same problem is unlikely to arise at the St-Hubert outlet. The average age of its employees is more than 30 and the majority of them work full-time.

The Teamsters began a new union drive on Montreal's South Shore last fall when it became clear that most of the grievances that prompted the Longueuil employees to seek certification had gone unaddressed at other McDonald's outlets.

They include low wages and a failure by employers to compensate workers for overtime. Many workers said they are required to arrive up to 30 minutes before the beginning of their shift--without pay--to prepare machines and other equipment.

One 30-year-old St-Hubert employee, Martin Tremblay, told reporters that after six years at the outlet he still only makes $6.90 an hour, or 20 cents more than Quebec's minimum wage of $6.70.

McDonald's Quebec head office yesterday referred calls to a Montreal public relations firm. Late yesterday, the firm issued a brief but nebulous statement on behalf of the owners of the St-Hubert franchise, brothers Tom and Mike Cappelli.

"The case of our restaurant is an isolated case," the statement said. "As local businessmen and members of the McDonald's franchisee community, we will continue to maintain an open-door policy with our employees in order to guarantee good communication."

The St-Hubert employees' application for certification is now in the hands of the Quebec's Commissaire général du travail. The body, which is within the Labour Ministry, can choose to automatically certify the union if it has proof that support for certification is widespread, or request a formal vote by all employees.

Mr. Fournier said he could not estimate how long it would take for the Labour Ministry to rule on the application. "That will depend on the objections McDonald's tries to raise," he said. "Corporate lawyers always have many resources at their disposal to stall the process."

The Quebec Federation of Labour already represents workers at several fast-food restaurants in the province, including outlets belonging to Harvey's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Tim Horton's.

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