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Delegate Profile: Quebec Delegate Facing Challenges, Eyeing Opportunities

September 16, 2011

Quebec’s French cultural and linguistic heritage makes it unique among Canadian provinces. It also boasts a distinctive system of labor law that prioritizes workers’ right to collectively bargain, making it one of the most unionized jurisdictions in North America.  More than 40 percent of all Quebec workers are union members, a rate that runs even higher in the construction industry, which is almost wholly unionized.

But the more 1,000 IBEW construction members in the province face a discriminatory job market that gives the rival Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) a near monopoly over hiring and placement on construction projects.

Says Montreal Local 568 Business Manager Laurent Talbot:

The FTQ ends up deciding who gets to work, which is unfair to members of other construction unions

But Talbot says he is hopeful about recent proposed changes to the labor code that would break the FTQ’s monopoly on hiring and open up the labor market to other construction unions. The biggest change would allow all Quebec unions to make manpower recommendations to the provincial government for placement on projects.

Quebec labor law in also unique in that is gives all construction workers the opportunity to switch unions every three years.  The union that gets the most support wins the right to bargain with the contractors association, setting wage rates and working standards for all employees.  Balloting begins in June and Talbot says the IBEW is mobilizing to recruit new members across the province when campaigning begins next May.

The Brotherhood’s biggest selling point, says Talbot, is:

We can work anywhere in Canada because we are part of an international union, which makes the building trades unique compared to other Quebec construction unions.

Attending his first International Convention, Talbot says he values the opportunity to meet with IBEW leaders from across North America to strategize about the future of the union movement in the electrical industry.

The situation he faces in Quebec is different from what other delegates must face, he says, but the IBEW’s goals are the same no matter where you are:

There is a strong anti-union wave across Canada and the United States and meeting with brothers and sisters to chart a course forward for our Brotherhood is a great opportunity.

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