Unionized Quebec Tim Hortons workers unhappy with deal that cuts paid breaks

The union representing 80 workers at four Quebec Tim Hortons claims they've been dealt a blow after an imposed contract cut their paid coffee and lunch breaks, even though their employer is abiding by the collective agreement and the province's labour laws.

Collective agreement imposed by arbitrator after negotiations broke down

The union for workers at four Tim Hortons in Sept-Îles, Que., says employees are being penalized for unionizing, but the employer is abiding by both provincial labour laws and an arbitrated agreement. (Mathieu Boudreau/Radio-Canada)

The union representing 80 workers at four Quebec Tim Hortons claims they've been dealt a blow after an imposed contract cut their paid coffee and lunch breaks, even though their employer is abiding by the collective agreement and the province's labour laws.

"It's not fair," said Nicholas Lapierre, regional co-ordinator with the United Steelworkers (USW). "We are very, very disappointed about this situation."

The four Tim Hortons, all in the city of Sept-Îles, are owned by one franchisee. For years, employees working a full-time shift at those locations got two paid coffee breaks plus a paid 30-minute lunch break, said Lapierre.

But as a result of a new collective agreement the coffee breaks are gone and there's no pay for lunch, he said.

"The workers are very angry."

The workers at the four Sept-Îles locations unionized by joining the USW in 2015. Very few Tim Hortons employees are represented by a union. 

The USW set out to negotiate a new contract, hoping to score benefits for workers such as higher pay and more rights for senior employees.

Nicolas Lapierre, regional co-ordinator for the United Steelworkers, says Sept-Îles Tim Hortons workers are being treated unfairly. (Marc-Antoine Mageau/Radio-Canada)

Negotiations stalled, leading both parties to enter into binding arbitration in April to reach a collective agreement.

The union wasn't happy with the results. Lapierre says employees — who make the minimum wage of $12 an hour — were guaranteed a five-cent raise for each year of service. They also got at least one extra paid vacation day.

But the agreement removed their coffee breaks and their pay for lunch breaks, said Lapierre.

Employees working two part-time shifts are also no longer allowed to eat on the premises unless they order food in the restaurant, he said.

He calls it "union busting."

Everything is by the book

The general manager for the four Sept-Îles Tim Hortons said that management is abiding by both Quebec labour laws and the collective agreement decided by the arbitrator.

"We apply the conventions that are imposed on us," said Wayne Malouin in an interview in French.

He denied workers had their breaks cut, stating that they still get a half-hour break, as mandated by law.

Malouin said that workers can't eat their lunch on the premises between shifts for "safety and insurance" reasons.

He also denied that employees were being penalized for unionizing, and said that relations between staff and management is "very good."

United Steelworkers members gathered outside a Sept-Îles Tim Hortons. (USW)

Earlier this year, Tim Hortons faced criticism after workers at nearly a dozen locations across Ontario claimed that their franchise owners rolled back their benefits and coffee breaks to offset the costs of a minimum wage hike.

During that time, the chain's owner, multinational Restaurant Brands International, declined to take sides, stating that individual franchise owners are responsible for all employment matters.

A Tim Hortons spokesperson reiterated that policy in an email to CBC News and, this time, expressed support for the franchisee. 

"Individual franchise owners are responsible for their own employment policies and negotiations," Jane Almeida said.

"We understand this restaurant owner has been fully co-operative throughout the collective bargaining process."

'Everyone is bound by it'

Employment and labour lawyer Jeremy Little wouldn't comment on the particulars of this case, but said if employees lost their paid breaks as part of a collective agreement, there's nothing much they can do about it.

He said according to Quebec labour laws, employers aren't obligated to provide coffee breaks or paid lunch breaks — unless an employee is required to work during lunch.

"If there's a collective agreement, it has to comply with local labour laws in place, but there's no obligation to go beyond the collective agreement," said Little with OLS law firm in Montreal.

"Everyone is bound by it, frankly, for better or for worse."

USW's Lapierre agrees no laws have been broken but says Sept-Îles workers will fight for a better contract when the current one expires in 18 months.

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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