Why Péladeau's anti-union plea is more than a bit disingenuous - Macleans.ca

Why Péladeau’s anti-union plea is more than a bit disingenuous

Péladeau fails to mention it, but he’s got a few horses in this race.


Pierre-Karl Péladeau, the head of telecommunications behemoth Québecor, published an open letter in this morning’s Journal de Québec blasting unions for hampering the province’s economic progress. Not surprisingly, the missive isn’t going over very well. For those of you who can stomach record-breaking run-on sentences, here are the juiciest bits, translated into la langue de Gainey:


Without wanting to call into question either their existence or the positive contributions these organizations have made over the 20th century, we need to question the imbalance all the legislation of the past decades has created between employers and unions, an imbalance which has and continues more than ever to handicap Quebec businesses in the context of an increasingly globalized economy, to make the emergence of young businesspeople more difficult, and to hamper our collective desire, not to say our obligation to improve our productivity in order to meet the many challenges of which we’ve been made aware by economic and social commentators.


Shouldn’t we also question the privilege afforded employees involved in a labour conflict to not pay income tax on the financial compensation they receive from their unions, an exceptional measure that forces taxpayers who are already among the most heavily-burdened on the continent to finance the positions taken by unions?


Many members of the intelligentsia will no doubt come to the defence of the positive actions of Quebec unions. […] Have these right-thinking people ever been confronted by the reality business leaders and business people like my colleagues and I face on a daily basis, in Canada as much as elsewhere, in a context of global competitiveness? In Quebec, business leaders must devote too much time, energy, and money managing their “labour relations” whereas elsewhere, the many stakeholders involved in businesses work together to ensure the pursuit of the development of their activities and increases in productivity in order to gain traction in global markets, as much in the manufacturing sectors as in the sectors of information and technology.

While unions in Quebec have become an economic force as powerful as it is undeniable, as evidenced by our unionization rate of around 40% which is the highest in North America, why should these organizations benefit from so many privileges that are less and less justifiable in a context where transparency and accountability have rightfully invaded the political and economic spheres?

Péladeau fails to mention it, but he’s got a few horses in this race. Perhaps no other Quebec employer has as gleefully locked out its employees as Québecor has in recent years. To wit: the ongoing, year-old lock-out at the Journal de Montréal, the 16-month-long lock-out of workers at the Journal de Québec between 2007 and 2008, the year-long lock-out of Vidéotron employees in 2002. In fact, since 2002, Québecor has resorted to locking out unionized employees no less than 10 times. Péladeau’s suggestion the tax status of strike pay should figure into a wide-range discussion of organized labour’s impact on competitiveness and productivity shows the degree to which this is above all a personal battle for him. (Péladeau’s pre-emptive invocation against the elites is even more absurd. As if inheriting the reins of Québecor didn’t amount to being handed as loud a megaphone as there is in the province.)

Almost as jarring are Péladeau’s paeans to competition. Many of Québecor’s recent successes can be attributed to Péladeau’s (arguably brilliant) ability to get his entire media operation pushing a single product while simultaneously locking out competitors and consumers unwilling to swallow that product whole. Take Star Académie, Quebec’s answer to American Idol, for instance: the show was broadcast on Péladeau’s network (TVA); it was heavily promoted and covered by his stable of newspapers and magazines, all of whom had steady access to “exclusive” interviews and other “exclusive” content; and access to the website, which contained yet more “exclusive” material was restricted to Vidéotron’s broadband Internet customers. Combine all that with the fact the show was hosted by Péladeau’s spouse, Julie Snyder, and it makes for as hermetic a product as could be imagined.

Péladeau may very well be right that Quebec needs to re-assess its labour laws. At least in the construction industry, there’s plenty of reason to be concerned about organized labour’s reticence to embrace “transparency and accountability” (though Péladeau’s apparent belief that business and government have adopted either requires nothing short of wilful ignorance). But there’s a distinct problem with the messenger here. As La Presse‘s Sophie Cousineau ably put it last December: “It’s as if Pierre Karl Péladeau were always wearing glasses that made him see the world as it should be for Québecor. And if reality must be altered to conform to this vision, well, so be it.” In other words, Péladeau has seemingly become unable to differentiate between what’s good for Quebec and what’s good for Québecor, and that should make anyone wary of manning his barricades.


Why Péladeau’s anti-union plea is more than a bit disingenuous

  1. The last line reminded me of something. I remember on a web forum, discussing something about Quebec (probably separatism), a native informed American (like there any other kind) called the people of Quebec "Quebecors".

    We Quebecers were not amused.

  2. If a company had some scarce commodity, cornered the market on it/prevented competition, and charged inflated prices to consumers it would be charged under anti-trust legislation. Yet when unions do the same thing with labour, our system of government encourages them. Labour unions are nothing more than cartels in the labour market. Do they get higher wages for their workers? Yes. Not by creating anything, however. They get higher wages/benefits at the cost of R&D/plant expansion, at the cost of higher prices for consumers (including union members), and at a cost to dividends.

    Thankfully, private sector unions are dying out. Companies with a bottom line can't afford to be strait-jacketed by unions. However, about 30% of our GDP is spent by governments – much of that goes to public sector employees. Whereas competition in the private sector can sink employers with overly generous benefits, the same is not true of government. Crown corporations and public services do not compete with private firms. So what we have is a double monopoly.

    I am glad to see somebody with the will to take on the unions in Quebec. I only wish somebody in my fair city of Toronto would do the same. For instance, we have TTC ticket collectors that make $22/hr (some TTC bus drivers can hit >$100,000/year). At the same time we have among the highest ticket prices in North America (making fewer people take the bus).

    • Ya and a house in Toronto is only $1,000,000,000.00

  3. He's talks about a power imbalance and then cites the tax status of strike pay as one of the issues to address? While he has workers locked out?

    Do Quebeckers watch the Simpsons? I'm thinking if he lives another century or so Peladeau will start to look like Monsieur Burns.

    P.S. Thanks for the translation into "la langue de Gainey."

    • Waif: You can't treat the working man this way! One of these days we'll form a union, and get the fair and equitable treatment we deserve! Then we'll go too far, and become corrupt and shiftless, and the Japanese will eat us alive!

      Burns' Grandfather: The Japanese? Those sandal-wearing goldfish tenders? Ha ha! Bosh! Flimshaw!

      Mr. Burns: Oh, if only we'd listened to that young man, instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven.

  4. PKP has the unions he deserves, its his problem and he can deal with it. I don't see a problem with unions in the private sector, if PKP andd his employeses can't get along and tthe Journal closes, PKP and the employees are the losers, at worst readers can go elsewhere for their news and sports etc.

    What is tiotally nonsensical is unionzed public sector employees. In essence these employees are banding together in a union to protect themselves , not from some big shot capitalist exploiter, but from all of us Jo Public. As if the public has an interest in exploiting its employees for profit. Yet more than two thirds of Quebec's unionied employees belong to the public sector.

    Put it another way, when the Journal is on strike I can always read la Presse, but when there is no metro service I can't use a competitor.

  5. 1. Union strike pay comes from TAXED INCOME – therefore, paying taxes on strike pay would be taxing the person twice.
    If he were to treat his employees as anything more than chess pieces he might have a more loyal and productive workforce. Why would they have any loyalty to him or his companies if he treats tham like cr@p and provides absolutely no faith that they won't be out of work in the morning. Not a great business practice, but the sheep in the general public seem perfectly happy to have all power in the hands of the CEOs, who give themselves massive bonusses for every bout of layoffs they can manage. The sheep tell the workers 'you should be happy to have a job'. Any decent employer tells his staff 'thankyou for a job well done, and to keep you doing the good work I am going to reciprocate.

  6. Canada in general has an issue with Unions. They have served a purpose but have had their day. As a recent immigrant to this great country I am appalled by the apathy shown when Unions are flexing their so called rights by striking. The Garbage Strike in Toronto and the OC Transpo Strike in Ottawa were examples of how out of touch Unions are and how apathetic the government is. The sooner Labour laws are reformed the better Canada will be both domestically and internationally.