Montreal Transit Maintenance Workers Uphold the Dignity of Labour

Bitter Fight for a Favourable Collective Agreement

Demonstration by Montreal Transit maintenance workers, September 13, 2018.

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?

Gleason Frenette: 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 help to 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 day positions 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 positions is 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.[1] We will have a premium, which will increase gradually, which will compensate for the effects of Bill 15 which requires that we are now forced 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 negotiation?

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 side.

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 retirement.

(Photos: CSN)

This article was published in

Number 21 - June 6, 2019

Article Link:
Montreal Transit Maintenance Workers Uphold the Dignity of Labour : Bitter Fight for a Favourable Collective Agreement - Interview, Gleason Frenette, President, Montreal Transit Union


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