The union representing members of the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC), represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), called a general strike on Friday, May 20.
The 300 member union says the job action is in response to the suspension of the president and vice-president of the union, along with 75 employees.
According to a press release from the union, these individuals were suspended because they wore dresses and Bermuda shorts rather than the black pants and sweaters required by the SQDC. The refusal to wear the SQDC uniform was a means of pressure on the SQDC to meet the CUPE members’ demands for better salaries and benefits—ones comparable to employees with the Société des alcools du Québec, the Crown wine-and-spirits agency.
According to a CUPE press release, SQDC members make around $17 an hour starting wage, with the majority of employees having no full-time position or job security.
Nearly all (91%) of the unionized employees voted in February 2022 for a mandate to initiate pressure tactics that could go as far as an indefinite general strike at the time deemed appropriate.
CUPE says it is also seeking to exercise its right to negotiate for employees of new branches who have unionized.
“All we ask for are decent working conditions. Currently, we feel no respect from our employer and this is reflected in the mandates given to the management negotiating committee. In short, no, we will not be the ‘cheap labour’ of state corporations!” said David Clément, president of Local 5454, in February.
A representative for SQDC declined to comment on the negotiation, but noted that strike actions are impacting 22 out of the 89 SQDC locations in the province.
“The SQDC fully recognizes the employees’ right to assert pressure tactics during the current negotiations,” says Fabrice Giguère communications advisor and spokesman for the SQDC. “We cannot comment on the ongoing negotiations because we want to discuss the matters that need to be addressed at the negotiating table. Our goal is to come up with a negotiated deal to the satisfaction of all parties involved.”
“Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that 22 stores are currently on strike out of the 89 stores that we have network wide. We aim to keep these 22 stores opened in order to keep serving our customers and fulfill our mandate of migrating consumers over to the legal recreational cannabis market. We have changed the opening hours for the stores that are on strike. They will be opened from noon to 6:00PM Tuesday to Friday and from noon to 5:00PM on Saturday. They will be closed on Sunday. All other stores will be opened according to the normal schedule which is 10:00AM to 9:00PM Monday to Friday and 10:00AM to 5:00PM on Saturday and Sunday.”
The SQDC is Société Québécoise du Cannabis, operating all retail cannabis stores in the province, with nearly 100 locations currently in operation. When the stores first opened in late 2018, no employees were unionized, but a few weeks later CUPE was already representing SQDC employees with a focus on raising wages above $14 an hour. By mid-2019 some employees were threatening to strike for higher wages.
Employees in some stores had also agreed to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW). In late 2019, workers reached a collective agreement settlement with CUPE representatives around sick days.
“We are going to give mediation a chance by showing that we are in good faith, despite the closed attitude and the contemptuous remarks of our counterparts at the negotiation table,” added Clément earlier this year. “However, we will in no way accept that the employer tries to create disparities in treatment between the branches. Our mandate is clear, we will negotiate for our 24 branches at the same time, the same collective agreement.”
Retail employees at some privately run retail cannabis locations in BC have also unionized. In 2021, The Ontario Cannabis Store ended a contract with the province’s first cannabis-related union.
This article has been updated to include comments from the SQDC.