Striking SAQ workers seek job security, insurance

The SAQ published a list of stores that will remain open despite the strike.  (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The SAQ published a list of stores that will remain open despite the strike. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Some 5,000 unionized workers at the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) are on strike Wednesday, hoping to reach an agreement with their employer after more than a year of negotiations.

Their union is demanding more full-time positions and improved access to benefits for employees. The two strike days are the first of a 15-day strike mandate by union members.

Unless there is a breakthrough, the strike is expected to continue Thursday.

Although no picketing is expected today, union representatives held a rally this morning at Montreal's Place des Festivals.

During Wednesday's rally, union members repeated one of their key messages: They say about 70 per cent of the Crown corporation's employees work part time or are on call.

"That means for every two-week period, they don't know if they'll have enough hours to pay for groceries," said Caroline Senneville, the president of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), an umbrella labour organization that includes unions across the the province, including SAQ workers.

Similar events are planned in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Gatineau, Rouyn-Noranda, Saguenay and Sainte-Thérèse.

Earlier this week, management said a plan will be in place to maintain some access to SAQ outlets. In a statement published Wednesday, the SAQ provided a full list of stores operating today.

Given that the SAQ is holding two days of annual planning with managers and employees, "the number of branches open to customers will be lower than we had anticipated, meaning some regions may not be served today," the statement reads.

Union members are also demanding faster access to the group insurance plan. Even if they work 20 hours a week on average, employees currently have to wait up to seven years before being eligible for insurance, which doesn't include vision or dental care, said Élise Lallement, secretary general for the union.

It takes an average of 12 years for workers to get a full-time position at the SAQ with full benefits, according to Lallement.

"We're hoping that the general public will acknowledge that our demands are not atrocious or crazy," Lallement said. "A lot of people are not aware that we live in so much precarity at the SAQ."

The union and the employer will meet again Monday with a conciliator.