Hundreds of cannabis store workers in Quebec go on strike

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Upwards of 300 employees at approximately two dozen cannabis stores in Quebec went on strike over the weekend after the province-run Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) suspended the union’s leadership, along with 75 employees, over apparent dress-code violations, according to the union representing the workers.

It’s believed to be one of the largest labor actions to date in the Canadian or U.S. cannabis industries.

In a news release, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said that “this work stoppage follows the suspension of the president of the union, the vice-president as well as 75 employees on the grounds that they wore dresses and Bermuda shorts as means of pressure rather than the black pants and sweater required.”

The workers started the strike Friday night.

The union said the action included 300 workers, but the SQDC put the number at roughly 250 employees.

A spokesperson for the SQDC, which has a monopoly on the sale of recreational cannabis in Quebec, said the SQDC is aiming to keep the stores open “to keep serving our customers and fulfill our mandate of migrating consumers over to the legal recreational cannabis market.”

The affected stores will operate limited hours until the labor issues are resolved.

All other 67 stores remain open under the normal schedule, the SQDC said.

“The SQDC fully recognizes the employees’ right to assert pressure tactics during the current negotiations,” the spokesperson said.

The provincial agency had 883 employees as of last year, according to it 2021 annual report.

The workers are also demanding proportional compensation to their colleagues at the province’s Société des alcools du Québec, a government body that operates liquor stores.

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“These SQDC workers barely earn CA$17 per hour upon hiring and the majority have no full-time position or job security, which puts them in an untenable precarious position,” CUPE said in its statement.

The CUPE said 91% of employees voted in February in favor of a mandate to launch pressure tactics, including an indefinite general strike when deemed appropriate.

The strike does not affect Quebec’s cannabis e-commerce service, which the SQDC also operates a monopoly over.

It’s not the first significant strike among cannabis retail workers in Canada.

In 2020, nearly 40% of Newfoundland and Labrador’s licensed cannabis retailers were shut down as the result of a labor action.

That strike involved workers at 10 stores.

Quebec’s legal cannabis sales amounted to 42 million Canadian dollars ($32.7 million) in February, making the province the third biggest market in Canada.

Matt Lamers can be reached at matt.lamers@mjbizdaily.com.