"Company totally underestimated workers’ determination"

Socialist Alternative (CWI Quebec) spoke with Jacques Fontaine, one of the striking workers at the Old Port of Montreal.

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Can you tell us why you are on strike?

Some 280 workers at the Old Port of Montreal have been on strike since May 27th. Our main goal is to fill the wage gap that has been created between what we earn in the Old Port and what others doing similar jobs earn. According to our in-house research, depending on the job type, Old Port workers earn anywhere from $1 to $8 less than others doing similar jobs elsewhere in the city. Now, given that 40% of our workers earn less than 15$ an hour, we are asking for a 15$ minimum wage in the Old Port, as part of our goal to fill the wage gap for all.

The starting wage of workers in the Old Port is $10.67, which is below the $10.75 minimum wage here in Quebec. Over the last 10 years, starting wages in the Old Port have only increased 4.25%, so there is a lot of catching up to do.

We also are demanding that all workers receive guaranteed sick pay as, at present, two thirds of the workforce has no sick pay whatsoever.

The Old Port is now mainly a tourist area and is regulated by the Canadian government, through Canada Lands Company. We are mainly members of the Public Services Alliance of Canada (PSAC), and a few of us are members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE).

What has the response of management been? I understand they have used the courts against you.

They tried to discredit us in the media, claiming we were making impossible demands. However, a large majority of workers think $15 an hour is a reasonable demand.

The company has not negotiated with us; instead they have simply presented the same offer three times. This is an offer that was rejected, in the lead up to the strike, by 76% of the workforce and led to an 80% strike vote.

Their offer was 9.5% over four years. In most other places, this would be a decent offer. However, given how far our wages have fallen behind, it is totally inadequate in our case.

Instead of negotiating, from the first day, the company sought an injunction banning us from protesting on site. The company used false claims to get that injunction. Now the union is taking the head of security to court for making these false claims, which were the basis of the court injunctions.

The company totally underestimated the workers’ determination.

The Old Port is owned by a Canadian government corporation. What have been the actions of the Liberal government?

We have had no support or response. We met our local Liberal MP, Mark Miller, but nothing has happened. We have tried to meet the Heritage minister, Mélanie Joly, and the minister responsible for Canada Lands Company, the Public Services and Procurement minister, Judy Foot, but neither have responded.

The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is also a local MP and he too has not met us.

What support have you received?

Our union, PSAC, is supporting the strike with strike pay and funding our legal costs.

We have received excellent support from the public and from city workers and postal workers. Also community groups for immigrants, student unions and other smaller unions have been great. Local Montreal people have given us positive support, in fact, great support, with hardly any one hostile. Alternative Socialiste has given us a lot of help from the start.

What can our readers do to support you?

This is one of the first strikes in Canada of workers fighting for a $15 minimum wage, so it is of national importance.

We would ask activists and union members across Canada to help by:

  • Building the fight for $15 in other areas will greatly help our struggle. This is a key issue for all the working class.
  • Sending messages of support to PSAC Local 10333 - Old Port Workers of Montreal, P.O. BOX 116, Succursale Place D’Armes, Montreal, Quebec H2Y 3H8.
  • We would welcome financial support (cheques made payable to Syndicat des employés de la Société du Vieux-Port de Montréal, at above address).
  • Sending letters to Prime Minister Trudeau (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) urging the government of Canada to intervene in support of the workers of the Old Port.
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