Montreal Transit Maintenance Workers
Uphold the Dignity of Labour
Bitter Fight for a Favourable Collective Agreement
Demonstration by Montreal Transit maintenance workers, September 13,
After 23 months of bargaining and 170 bargaining
meetings, the Montreal Transit Union (STM-CSN) signed a new collective
agreement on April 9 for the 2,400 STM maintenance workers. In a
general membership meeting on March 10, the workers voted 96.5 per cent
in favour of adopting the draft agreement, with a participation of
about 1,600 workers in the meeting, a new record for the union. Given
the fact that about 400 members were at work at the time of the meeting
and that about 100 workers were off due to work-related accidents, the
turnout was very high. The employer had come to the bargaining table
with a long list of rollbacks, including the privatization of
certain jobs. The workers were also subject to two new anti-worker laws
adopted by the Quebec government, one on pension plans and the other on
the bargaining regime in the municipal sector. Workers' Forum
recently spoke with union president Gleason Frenette about the union's
assessment of this intense period of activity and what
workers have been able to accomplish.
Workers' Forum: The union has a very
positive assessment of what you have accomplished in this negotiation.
Can you tell us more?
We have been able to improve a number of premiums, including premiums
for night workers and those who work weekends. At the STM, we are open
seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We have no choice, there are people
working at night and there are people working on the weekends. Premiums
improve the lot of these workers.
We have made a lot of gains with respect to the day job
guarantees, the positions called 5-2, five days of work, two days off.
We guaranteed all these positions in exchange for allowing the employer
to create night and evening shifts at the Crémazie plants, which
repairs the bus parts. Before creating an evening or night shift, all
must be filled at all work locations. This is reassuring for workers
who have less seniority, who are forced to work night and evening,
because they know that at some point there will be room to work on days.
It is important that day jobs have been guaranteed.
According to our agreement, the STM can cut a position by attrition,
for example when a worker retires. Employees who retire are often
working on days. So we guaranteed these positions. This was important
because when jobs are guaranteed, if there is a shortage of work, they
have to keep
their staff. In return, we also gave the STM the opportunity to create
12-hour positions, which did not exist before. We have regulated how
these positions would be used. If the employer wants current STM
workers to fill these positions, it has to offer them these jobs on a
voluntary basis. The only ones who can be forced to take these
at hiring point. When you hire, it's a lesser problem because when you
know that it's a twelve-hour job, you have the choice to work for the
STM or not. Employees in these positions work 36 hours and are paid for
40 hours. This will start soon.
There will be massive hiring at the STM. That's why we
managed to negotiate these job guarantees, because the employer knew
that they would hire a lot of workers. There are many projects in
public transit. The STM is growing in size. That was the time for us to
act because the employer had a lot of demands. They want flexibility,
including creating night and evening positions. The employer came to
the table with more than 100 demands of rollbacks or changes in the
collective agreement. We negotiated to make gains with job guarantees
in exchange for what we decided to accept in terms of flexibility.
We made gains in terms of catching-up on the wages for
tradespeople. We had trades categories whose wages were $10-12 dollars
less than in the private sector.
We managed to introduce a new premium, called the
flex-premium. It is a premium that offsets the effects of Bill 15 on
pensions in the municipal sector.
We will have a premium, which will increase gradually, which will
compensate for the effects of Bill 15 which requires that we are now
to contribute 50-50 in our pension plan with the employer. Previously,
the contribution was 66-33, two-thirds by the employer and one-third by
the workers. We had collective agreement language negotiated on that.
We agreed to a lot of concessions in the past to improve our pension
plan, but the law changed all that. Even though we had
contracts with the employer, they were cancelled.
WF: You have negotiated under Bill
15, an Act to foster the financial health and sustainability of
municipal defined benefit pension plans, and Bill 24, An Act
respecting the process of negotiation of collective agreements and the
settlement of disputes in the municipal sector. What was their
impact on the
GF: Regarding Bill 15, it was really
complex. That was very costly because we had to have an actuary with us
all the time to negotiate. Bill 15 increases our contribution to our
pension plan on each pay.
With respect to Bill 24, which was passed in 2016, it
governs the whole bargaining process. It imposes stages: there is so
much time to negotiate, after that the employer can request the
presence of a mediator. Everything is framed, provided with its
deadline. The employer used the act to request a mediator. The mediator
intervened in our negotiation eight months after the expiry of the
collective agreement. During the mediation stage, parties have 60 days
to negotiate an agreement. The mediator himself can extend the
mediation or can do so at the request of both parties. Once he has
extended the mediation, both parties must consent to a further 60-day
extension. We had to put a lot of pressure on the employer to get them
to agree with this new extension. Once those 60 days were over, the
employer was threatening to bring in the special mandatary, whose
position was created by the act and who has the power to recommend that
our working conditions be decreed. Under the Act we are constantly
negotiating under threat. Also, the Act says that we have to sign
contracts of a minimum duration of five years, whereas our tradition
was three-year contracts.
In addition, the negotiation has been extremely
judicialized. The employer has brought us to the Administrative Labour
Tribunal many times. It constantly used the judiciary to help its
balance of power. This actually happened seven times. Judicialization
of conflicts is stronger than before because the employer knows he has
the law on his
To counteract the effects of Bill 24, we negotiated and
put into the collective agreement that in future we would begin to
negotiate one year before the expiry of the agreement.
Mass meeting of maintenance workers, May 27, 2018.
WF: How did you approach this negotiation
considering all these limitations and obstacles?
GF: We put a lot of emphasis on
mobilization. We are the only one of the six unions at the STM where
the president is not always at the bargaining table. Towards the end of
the bargaining I was at the table all the time, but during the 23
months that negotiations lasted, I was involved in mobilizing work at
the union office
and in the workplace. We have been very active in the workplace, the
entire executive. We have also organized demonstrations in the streets.
We wrote a lot of leaflets. We had given ourselves a
guideline of writing a leaflet a month instead of a leaflet every two
or three months as we often do. We distribute leaflets everywhere in
the workplace. We also put them on our Facebook page. In these
leaflets, we gave all the details of the negotiation, explained the
problems, what the employer was asking for. We also used these leaflets
because the employer wanted to privatize certain jobs, for example by
giving the cleaning services of all STM office buildings to the private
sector. In exchange, the employer was promising us financial
compensation. They were trying to buy us off. We said it was out of the
question, that we protect everyone.
We have tried to use the media to tell the truth about
what is happening. For example, the STM changed the method of refueling
buses with gasoline, which resulted in a lot of fuel outages. The STM
said it was sabotage by the members. We also explained to customers and
the public why there were so many buses off the road. It was not
because of job actions but of management errors, poor managerial
decisions about vehicle maintenance, poor quality of the buses
themselves. We used traditional media, especially newspapers, and
social media to tell the truth, to explain what was really happening in
order to get public opinion on our side. We made several on the record
interventions in the media, including social media, about what the STM
said. This is a first for us to have had public opinion on our side
during our dispute. Also, we opted for an overtime ban instead of a
full strike with essential services. We stopped everybody from working
overtime for six days.
We have adapted to the new realities. We cannot
negotiate in the same way as we did before these new laws.
It took a lot of energy, took a lot of our time. We have
been very active in the workplace. The members appreciate that, that we
are present where they work. We were not afraid to stand up to these
laws. We did not collapse in the face of them. If we had not had the
members with us, we could not stand up to the employer, that's for sure.
1. In December 2014, the
Government of Quebec passed Bill 15, an Act to foster the financial
health and sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans.
Among other things, the Act imposed a 50-50 contribution in current and
future pension plans and forced municipal workers to
pay 50 per cent of past deficits, although these were often caused by
deliberate refusal of the cities to put their required contributions in
the plans. The law is part of the arsenal of the state to attack the
right of workers to negotiate their conditions at work and at
This article was published in
Number 21 - June 6, 2019
Montreal Transit Maintenance Workers
Uphold the Dignity of Labour : Bitter Fight for a Favourable Collective Agreement - Interview, Gleason Frenette, President,