Municipal workers in Montreal and other Quebec municipalities walked out en masse at 2 p.m. today, to protest against the Quebec government‘​s proposed legislation aimed at reforming municipal pension plans to control crippling deficits.

In Old Montreal, hundreds of city employees – including firefighters and police officers, who flashed the lights of their cruisers – crowded onto the steps of Montreal City Hall and spilled onto Notre-Dame Street and Place Jacques-Cartier.  

Some waved black flags and started a bonfire on the street.

Protesters dispersed within the hour, and firefighters doused the bonfire – but not before Mayor Denis Coderre tweeted his concern.

"The right to protest is a fundamental right,"`Coderre tweeted. "But it is unacceptable and irresponsible for union members to light a fire during a demonstration."

STM buses halted

Firefighter douses bonfire

A Montreal firefighter douses a bonfire set on Notre-Dame Street in front of City Hall on June 17, during a protest by municipal workers against proposed pension reforms. (Radio-Canada)

Elsewhere on the island of Montreal, transit drivers stopped buses in their tracks.

In the borough of Saint-Laurent, fire trucks, police cruisers and municipal vehicles made their way along the streets, flashing their lights and honking their horns.

In Baie d'Urfé, firefighters protested in front of the West Island suburb's town hall, sounding their sirens.

A smaller protest also took place in front of the city hall in Quebec City.

The bill — officially titled An Act to foster the financial health and sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans — was tabled last Thursday, the day before the National Assembly broke for a summer recess.

Known as Bill 3, the proposed legislation would see municipal workers and cities evenly splitting the cost of the pension plan deficit.

Municipal Affairs Minister Pierre Moreau.said last week that municipal pension plan deficits now stand at nearly $4 billion across the province.

The new bill could make city employees pay more, and some retirees may also be on the hook for pension shortfalls.

Some 20,000 people are employed by the City of Montreal alone. 

In a surprise move, some 80 Montreal firefighters decided to take early retirement en masse last week, as soon as Bill 3 was tabled.