Quebec SAQ liquor store employees give green light for limited strike

MONTREAL — Members of a union representing more than 5,000 Société des alcools du Québec employees have voted in favour of a strike that threatens to temporarily close some of the province's government-owned liquor stores.

The labour group made the announcement Saturday morning after a series of general assemblies in which 89 per cent of participants approved a limited walkout totalling 15 days. The Syndicat des employés de magasins et de bureaux de la Société des alcools du Québec has not said if it plans to use those days, however, nor whether they would be consecutive.

"We wanted to make a statement to the employer that we are serious about our demands," union vice-president Alexandre Bolduc said in an interview, adding work-life balance and workplace health and safety are among the main points of contention in the dispute.

He said employees of the liquor store, commonly known as the SAQ, currently lack training to deal with what he described as an increase in the number of aggressive customers in urban stores since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union President Lisa Courtemanche says an overreliance on part-time employees at the SAQ has created situations in which some workers regularly complete schedules that resemble the workload of full-time employees, but without the associated benefits. She says part-time SAQ workers also face unpredictable work hours.

"We're looking to reduce the precarity," she said in an interview. "We don't have anyone left who wants to come and work at the SAQ. Our young colleagues are going elsewhere."

A spokesperson for SAQ declined to comment on the union's claims, but said the company is committed to reaching a labour agreement that is "satisfactory" to both parties. The SAQ says it has a plan to maintain service in the event of a strike, but urged customers to monitor its website to see which stores would remain open.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2024.

— With files from Helen Mokas in Montreal.

The Canadian Press