Quebec union threatens showdown

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – Word is emerging that the union representing 1,200 intermodal owner/operators, brokers and drivers in Montreal is preparing to take drastic measures to ink a collective agreement.

Representatives with the Syndicat National du Transport Routier (SNTR) won’t reveal details of their battle plan yet, but vow that, “it is going to hurt.”

Members of the SNTR, which operates under the umbrella organization of the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN), can often be found at the huge CAST terminal located near the Louis H. Lafontaine Tunnel. And the union claims 90 per cent of the location’s drivers are SNTR members.

The fighting words are suprising only in that they have taken so long to come: the SNTR won a strike mandate from its members in February. On April 28, they voted in favor of a collective agreement that includes a 40-hour work week and overtime, seniority, paid holidays, group RRSP and fuel costs that are indexed monthly. It also demands an $18.50 hourly wage, plus truck expenses that would vary with the kind of rig driven.

The union had invited 36 affected carriers to a May meeting to discuss the demands, says Giuseppe Gracioppo, an SNTR organizer. Only two carriers, CLH Transport and Garipy Transport, showed up.

According to Gracioppo, SNTR’s front-line truckers pressured the union’s executive this summer to act or lose members. Guicippo says that he and his colleagues are perfectly willing to walk members over to another, more militant union if the CSN will not tussle with carriers.

Guicippo also believes that a major barrier to union action vanished this September with a 13-page legal judgement from the Office of the Commissioner-General of labor. On the 12th, it concluded that the brokers working for Huppe Transport of Montreal are salaried employees in the in the sense described by the Quebec Labor Code, and that nothing in the legislation applicable to owners and operators prevents such a conclusion.

“We took Huppe to court for intimidating (four unionized brokers) and for firing them,” says Gracioppo. “The company argued that they could fire the brokers because they weren’t salaried employees. The CSN argued that they were.”

The SNTR believes that this judgement means it now has the right to organize O/Os and brokers into a union and bargain collectively on their behalf. Under the Quebec Labor Code, only salaried employees have that right, and unions have been fighting to change this clause. The government has flatly refused.

If the judgement holds, arguments about modifying the Labor Code may have been made irrelevant – at least, that is what the union is convinced it has done. “(Carriers) can come and sit down … (or) drastic measure will be taken,” says Gracioppo.

The SNTR says it will invite the intermodal carriers to meet at an as-yet-unspecified date. “The only thing we will talk about at the meeting is the collective agreement. Read it. Give us answers. They know what we want. They will sit as one company and negotiate the collective agreement with one union, which represents all the drivers.”

But according to Francois Rouette, a Quebec attorney specializing in transportation law, hopes that the recent judgement clears the way for unions to lawfully represent O/Os are premature. Although he had not read the judgement when contacted by Truck News, he offered the opinion that “It is too early to argue that this gives the unions the right to unionize everywhere.”

Not only that, says Rouette, the fiscal status of an O/O who might find himself regarded as a salaried employee, but has used the tax advantages of a self-employed person, could change in the eyes of Revenue Quebec and Revenue Canada.

If this scenario ever gets to be played out and tested legally, O/Os may be rudely surprised to find that they have traded in their tax advantages for a collective agreement, and still be left holding the bag paying all the overhead that comes with being an independent operator.

There was, however, a strong industry reaction to some of the union tactics involving Verville. According to Rouette, CSN began “blocking access to the terminal and doing things to ensure that containers could not get out. We got a police escort at one point.’

“CSN was acting as though they had striking rights.

“We are not going to pussyfoot around anymore with these unions,” he adds. “Someone will pay somewhere. Our mandate is to claim damages.” n

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