Like most organizing campaigns, there were a lot of ups and downs for the workers of Aliments Martel, a new subsidiary of Canada Bread in Gatineau, Quebec.
When workers at the Gatineau facility approached BCTGM Local 55 (Montreal, Quebec) in 2009 about joining the Union, the worker’s spirits were high. They knew that the BCTGM represented Canada Bread workers across Canada and had a long, stable relationship with the company. That seemed to bode well for the workers at Martel, which Canada Bread had acquired in 2008.
But despite that relationship, as well as favorable labor laws in the province of Quebec, Aliments Martel management did what they could to keep their workers from joining the BCTGM.
Immediately after the company found out about the organizing campaign, workers at the plant were told that if they joined the union, the plant would be closed. Workers were also told that if they signed authorization cards, they would be fired. Predictably, support for the organizing effort waned substantially.
However, a few months into 2010, the campaign was revived. According to BCTGM International Organizer Sylvain Gagne, a new plant manager had decided not to wage an anti-union campaign. “To be sure, he did not want his employees to unionize, but he did not threaten workers like the previous plant manager had,” said Gagne.
With a more level playing field, Gagne and the Local 55 leadership, including Business Agent Éric Dumoulin, Financial Secretary Martin Cayer and local secretary Josée Sigouin, moved the organizing drive into high gear. The organizers began by helping workers in the plant form an organizing committee. The committee helped educate other workers about the benefits of joining the BCTGM and clear up any misunderstandings some workers may have had about unions.
According to David Durkee, BCTGM International Secretary-Treasurer and Director of Organizing, having an active organizing committee in the plant is absolutely vital to the success of an organizing drive. “Having a dedicated inside organizing committee is the difference between success and failure,” said Durkee.
By May, a majority of workers in the plant had signed authorization cards which Local 55 immediately submitted to the Quebec Labour Board for certification. Quebec’s provincial labor laws have “card-check recognition” which certifies the union if a majority of workers sign authorization cards.
Initially, the workers were elated. However, the Company contested the make-up of the bargaining unit and a hearing was scheduled for June. In July, the Quebec Labour Board certified Local 55 as the official representative of the workers at the Gatineau plant and negotiations on a first contract was scheduled to begin in October.
“It was an intense campaign, but thanks to the resolve of the Martel workers, the commitment of Local 55, and the support of the International, we prevailed,” said International Vice President Sean Kelly.
Canada Bread is one of Canada’s largest baking companies with facilities throughout Canada. The BCTGM represents over 2,000 Canada Bread workers in North America.