Couche-Tard Reaches Deal With Union

First collective agreement for six convenience stores in Quebec


MONTREAL -- The union representing workers at six Montreal Couche-Tard convenience stores has reached the first union agreement in North America with Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., reported the Canadian Press.

"Today is probably one of the best days for the CSN and for the workers," Jacques Letourneau, head of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), said at a news conference Monday.

The two sides also agreed on confidential severance packages for about 24 employees at two locations that closed since unionization efforts first started about two years ago, said the report. Workers would be covered by the agreement if the stores reopened.

The three-year agreement, approved unanimously provides wage increases to 70 employees, recognizes seniority rights of workers, improves vacation entitlements and includes measures to protect workers from violent customers.

The deal applies to five franchised stores, and one owned by the company, that are located in Montreal and around the province. All but one are also gas stations.

The deal was reached with the help of a provincial mediator and follows months of negotiations that quietly began last spring. Both sides refrained from mentioning they were in talks even when asked about the state of labor relations at last month's annual meeting of shareholders.

"Couche-Tard is pleased to have been able to find common ground with the CSN and its unionized employees who join the interests of all," a company spokesperson, Melissa Lessard, wrote in an email obtained by the news agency.

Letourneau said the agreement reflects the economic realities of the c-store sector, which often pays low wages to a transient workforce.

Workers at the stores earn a minimum hourly wage between $10.15 and $12.50. The contract will give them increases starting at about 15 cents per hour and, in six months, and up two per cent for those at the top of the scale. Additional increases in the contract are based on the number of hours worked.

"What we wanted was respect, the best working conditions, and I think our goal was achieved for now," said Luis Donis, local president for unionized stores in Montreal and Laval, Quebec, where the retailer has its headquarters.

Couche-Tard, one of North America's largest c-store chains, has forcefully objected to unionization efforts over the past few years.

In 2011, the union accused Couche-Tard of closing down one if its c-stores where employees were trying to unionize, putting 13 employees out of work. Couche-Tard responded by saying the Montreal store was closed because it was not profitable.

Union secretary-general Jean Lortie said the new contracts will assist efforts to sign up more of the company's workforce in Quebec and throughout Canada.

Lortie said the union's efforts were also helped by visiting Scandinavia to see how Couche-Tard dealt with the hundreds of unionized workers on its payroll after purchasing Statoil Fuel & Retail in 2012.

The company employs 60,000 in North America and another in Europe.

Couche-Tard's network currently includes approximately 6,200 c-stores throughout North America, including approximately 4,500 stores with fuel. Its North American network consists of 13 business units, including nine in the United States covering 40 states and the District of Columbia (under the Circle K banner) and four in Canada covering all 10 provinces (under the Couche-Tard and Mac's banners). Through its acquisition of Statoil, Couche-Tard also operates a retail network across Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), Poland, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Russia.