Playing Chicken..

A recent article in Maclean’s magazine sheds light on the labour situation in Québec and, in particular, the power and leverage that unions enjoy. Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the article and am cited.

In it, Alex Ballingall describes the saga of a labour battle between the enormous CSN and a small chicken restaurant, the “Au Roi du Coq Rôti” (loosley translated as “King of the Roast Chicken”). The work stoppage lasted over three years and hurt both the employer and the employees. As Mr. Ballingall and I explained in the article:

“The laws here in Quebec are different than in the rest of Canada, and that gives [unions] a little more leverage,” says Gabriel Granatstein, a labour lawyer for Norton Rose in Montreal. It’s easier to unionize in Quebec than in provinces like B.C., Alberta or Ontario. If a simple majority of employees sign cards saying they want to unionize, it happens automatically, says Granatstein. Elsewhere, workplaces need enough cards and an election. Quebec also has the highest percentage of unionized workers in the country—nearly 40 per cent. And it has “anti-scab” legislation, which prohibits employers from hiring new workers during lengthy strikes or lockouts.

To end the stoppage, “The King” had agreed to pay $145,000 in indemnities, $50,000 in lost wages and agree to an average increase in salaries of 9.75 per cent by 2017.

Québec is the only major province to have both card-check access to unionization and anti-scab legislation. Does this put Québec employers at a disadvantage?

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