By Ilija Dimeski
Cineplex workers in Quebec. with local 262 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), are planning to go on strike. Created in 1912 in Montreal, this union has been actively fighting for decent work for theatre employees in Quebec. From representing the cinema projectionists, to the front of the house employees, to live theatre and other entertainment related businesses, they have emerged as powerful advocates for theatre and cinema workers.
Despite the arrival of digital projection in 2010, which led to the elimination of cinema projectionists, the union still represents over 600 employees at Cineplex Entertainment in Montreal and Quebec City and more than 700 employees in live theatres and cinemas across Quebec, roughly 60% of the Cineplex workforce in Quebec.
On July 31, 2017 the union obtained a 97.4% strike mandate for the employees of the Cinema Brossard and VIP. 165 employees are directly impacted. “It is important to note that a lot of people attended the meeting and that we put it clear to them that this time it wasn’t just about voting a strike to scare them and use it as a bargaining power,” says Sylvain Bisaillon, President of IATSE Local 262. “We will shut everything down if this doesn’t get settled – everyone was aware of that when they voted”.
Fighting for a fair contract
In a bid to get a fair contract the union has been using pressure tactics such as not wearing the official Cineplex uniform and instead having thematic days such as wearing Halloween costumes.
Workers have also been collecting tips and making space for tips on the concession counter so that every customer can see – a tactic which goes against Cineplex’s politics. The union and the company have a conciliation hearing with the Ministry of Labour on September 14, 2017. Workers at Cinema Beauport also passed a 100% pressure tactics mandate last week and other units are said to join in soon.
The reasons for the strike are poverty wages. “Wages had been a battle since we decided in 2014 to have the fight for a decent living wage,” says Bisaillon. “After 23 years of fighting, since the first Cineplex were unionized in Quebec, reaching a decent living wage for our members is definitely the ultimate goal. Also, having the employer to respect employees for what they are: real workers just like any other worker in any kind of industry in Canada. Stop seeing us only as students, young part time workers, etc. I mean in the sense that Cineplex is using those terms, it is always to diminish us, to call us anything but workers because workers do get paid for their work!”
With the rise of the Fight for $15 and Fairness movement, a coalition was established in Quebec to advocate the demands of the movement. IATSE Local 262 joined the coalition and is hopeful it will pressure the company to end poverty wages for its workers.
On July 6, 2017 Cineplex offered the union less than a 1% wage increase for employees at levels 1 to 5 (working less than 5 years) and a 3.2% increase for levels 6 (working more than 5 years) and level 7 (working more than 10 years of seniority), raising the last level to $12.25 – still far from the union’s demands. This was supposedly the company’s final offer.
Last year Cineplex opened up “The Rec Room”, a 60,000-square-foot space featuring a large attractions area with amusement games. This one location added $2.1 million in food service and $2 million in amusement revenue, and now the company is set on opening 15 more locations across Canada. Sitting at 78.3% of the box office market share, bringing in just under $1.5 billion in revenue, and building new Cinemas and VIP expansions, the company is doing quite well. Even their monthly dividends have increased to 14 cents per share. Most recently the company signed an exclusive partnership deal to open Topgolf entertainment complexes nationwide, featuring a driving range with games and entertainment options. With big name movies opening this year such as Thor: Ragnarok and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, things are looking bright for the company, but what about its employees?
Cineplex workers in Quebec are fighting the good fight, and they need our help. “We want people to continue to go see movies at Cineplex,” says Bisaillon. “We are not in a boycott situation as this would just hurt our members more. But customers and the general public should know that the people serving them deserve a decent living salary and that Cineplex is not about to give it to them unless obliged. They can simply mention to management staff they their employer doesn’t pay them enough and that they deserve an increase”.
The union also has upcoming events on Facebook and would be glad to have anyone interested in showing solidarity be present. Demonstrations have taken place in Toronto, ON and St. Catherines, ON, as well as Victoria, BC.
Make sure to check out their page and leave a positive note to keep their spirits up! If you are interested in learning more about Cineplex you can also read “High Prices, Low Wages: In Cineplex Theatres Now.“