The bitter battle over the loss of 'free' coffee in Pierrefonds, Que.

The java wasn't free in Pierrefonds anymore, and that made relations jittery between the mayor and municipal employees.

Montreal suburb was spending $30K a year on coffee and decided to stop. That upset some workers.

No more free coffee in Pierrefonds, Que.


29 years ago
Neil Macdonald reports on a dispute over coffee that had burned some municipal employees in Pierrefonds, Que. 2:17

The coffee that had once been free was free no more in the Montreal suburb of Pierrefonds.

And that left some of its municipal workers feeling they had legitimate grounds for their bitter dispute with City Hall.

"It used to be free to all Pierrefonds employees," the CBC's Neil Macdonald said, when giving viewers a sense of the flavour of the coffee-related conflict on The National on Nov. 21, 1991.

"That is, until city council found out it was costing $30,000 a year."

'We have to cut it'

Acting Mayor Eldor Daigneault said the municipality could not justify spending $30,000 a year on coffee -- a cost he said was projected to rise to potentially double that figure by the year 2000. (The National/CBC Archives)

As a result, the free coffee era had come to an end for those employees two years earlier.

Acting Mayor Eldor Daigneault told The National it appeared the cost of that coffee would only rise with time, which was part of the reason he felt it had to go.

"It's quite a big expense," he said. "We have to cut it."

But amid brewing resentment — as Macdonald described it — a union representing some of those workers challenged their employer in court.

The dispute was, at that time, headed toward a showdown in the province's top court.

'It's the white-collar workers'

This man said the change in the coffee policy hadn't been an issue for the people who did outdoor work for the municipality in Pierrefonds, Que. (The National/CBC Archives)

Macdonald took the temperature of the hot topic by talking to people who worked for the municipality.

The people who did outdoor work for the city did not seem upset by the change in the coffee policy.

"We have our own coffee," said one Pierrefonds worker who was laying down cement for a sidewalk the day Macdonald dropped by.

"It's not really us, it's the white-collar workers."

'Nobody ever paid me no coffee'

This man said he'd never had a job that supplied him with free coffee. (The National/CBC Archives)

When Macdonald visited a city office, those white-collar workers did not want to talk about the coffee. And some walked away, as a CBC camera approached along with the acting mayor.

Macdonald also visited a Dunkin' Donuts shop to see what Pierrefonds residents thought of the ongoing brouhaha.

"Nobody ever paid me no coffee," one man told the reporter. "Lucky to get a break to have the coffee."

A cool-off to the conflict

A coffee cup is filled up by a machine located in a municipal building in Pierrefonds, Que., in November 1991. (The National/CBC Archives)

The following month, news broke that the two sides had reached an agreement.

According to reporting by the Montreal Gazette, the city paid the union $6,000 to compensate it for some of the money it had spent buying coffee for employees after it was no longer being provided in their workplace.

The paper reported the union would continue keeping profits from a coffee vending machine it had paid to install.