Arch Enemy

The thing about McDonald's and unions, though, is that for every organization bid that fails, another is born.

Report on Business magazine
September 1, 2001

Arch Enemy
McDonald's: It's a family, it's a team. It's definitely not a union shop. Pascal McDuff found that out the hard way
Konrad Yakabuski

Every family has its values. The "McFamily," the 1.5 million mostly teenaged people who work under the Golden Arches around the world, are reminded of their employer's values from their first moments on the job. The McDonald's code of conduct is embodied in a series of pithy quotes attributed to founder Ray Kroc, many of which are tacked to staff bulletin boards and routinely repeated by managers at the fast-food behemoth's almost 29,000 worldwide outlets. One Krocism stands out: "None of us is as good as all of us."

Taken on its own, the expression seems a straightforward appeal to team spirit. But for the hundreds of ex-McFamily members who, in the past decade, have fought to unionize at least a dozen McDonald's restaurants in Canada, it has come to symbolize the chain's zero-tolerance attitude toward dissent. Many of those who led the union drives in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia say they were made to feel selfish, like spoilers ruining a good thing for other, more obedient employees. They recall being passed over for raises and promotions, excluded from all-expenses-paid outings and reduced to fewer and fewer hours, more often than not during the dreaded closing shift. In short, they were made to feel they were no longer wanted or valued. They became the family's black sheep.

Pascal McDuff and Maxime Cromp did not intend to become the latest McCasualties when they launched an attempt to unionize their McDonald's outlet on Montreal's bustling Peel Street in the summer of 2000. The duo, now both 19, were undaunted by the failure of those who had gone before them. They took on a mission to establish better working conditions for themselves and their 40-odd co-workers – to improve on the low pay and paltry raises, the arbitrary schedule changes, the favouritism displayed by managers toward some employees, the harsh discipline and harassment experienced by others. More than anything, they sought to empower their generation. "Young people don't have a lot of job options. There's McDonald's, Harvey's, Burger King and maybe a supermarket," says McDuff. "The kids who tried [to unionize] before us were courageous. I felt called to their cause."

The job ladder at a typical McDonald's has seven rungs, from lowly crew worker to store manager. In between are crew trainers, crew chiefs, swing managers, first assistant managers and second assistant managers. Employees at each level exert authority over all ranks below them. McDuff was hired as a part-time crew worker in the spring of 1998. He was two months shy of his 16th birthday and needed extra money to help pay for the studies he would be undertaking at one of Quebec's CÉGEP community colleges. He started at $6.80 an hour, then Quebec's minimum wage. Cromp, also attending CÉGEP, joined the outlet a year later at 16.

Raises were not automatic with seniority, but granted at the discretion of the manager. McDuff learned that firsthand. After his first six months, he'd been limited to a meagre 10-cent raise. After a year on the job, he was earning 20 cents more than the minimum wage — less than the starting salary at a unionized fast-food restaurant nearby.

As much as the low wages, rigid in-store hierarchy and sometimes unpleasant tasks could be vexing, McDuff and Cromp grew to loathe most the climate of their workplace. Like all new McDonald's workers, the two were given the same employee manual when they joined. It's loaded with Krocisms like this one: "Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." Kroc's folksy advice gives only a hint of his disdain for the educated classes. He had been a high- school dropout and milkshake-mixer salesman before founding the McDonald's chain in 1955. As far as McDuff and Cromp were concerned, Kroc's anti-intellectual bent was alive and well in the modern McDonald's family. Teenage employees often found themselves scheduled to work the closing shift on school nights, even during exams. "Education was never a priority at McDonald's," McDuff says. "We were supposed to have ketchup in our veins." "I've had a look at what business schools do…They can't teach the kind of instinctual response and reliance on gut feelings that some people are lucky to learn at a young age." - McDonald's Restaurants of Canada senior chairman George Cohon.

McDonald's version of higher learning is practised at the Chicago-based training facility Hamburger University. HU's Canadian affiliate, with "campuses" in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, is called the Institute of Hamburgerology. The thousands of managers, executives and franchisees who graduate from HU's two-week course each year are schooled mostly in the McCulture that Kroc proudly begat. It's easy to see why George Cohon and Kroc hit it off. Of his business rivals, Kroc once said: "If they were drowning, I would put a hose in their mouth."

Cohon's 1997 memoir, To Russia with Fries, echoes the sentiment. "Would I hold back if we had one of our chief competitors on the ropes?" he asks. "Not a chance."

Although a lawyer by training, Cohon, who grew up on Chicago's rough-and-tumble South Side, is also a graduate of the school of hard knocks. A bully's victim in elementary school, he got his revenge years later in high school, by which time Cohon had outgrown his nemesis. Spotting the bully one day sipping water in the hallway, Cohon stepped up and bashed his teeth into the fountain. A few years later, as an army recruit in basic training, Cohon got back at his anti-Semitic drill sergeant by breaking three of his fingers. "Let bygones be bygones?" Cohon asks. "That's not the way things were when I was growing up. That's not the way I am, even today."

Cohon's tough-guy approach worked wonders at McDonald's Canadian arm. Soon after Kroc sold Cohon the exclusive rights to open McDonald's outlets in Eastern Canada in 1968 for $70,000 (U.S.), he offered to buy them back for a cool million, figuring he had underestimated the potential of what he had thought was just frozen wasteland. Cohon held out for a better offer and, in 1971, sold out for several times more than what Kroc had originally offered. Cohon became the company's second-biggest shareholder after Kroc. The latter put Cohon in charge of the entire Canadian operation after buying out Western Canadian franchisee George Tidball the same year. By 1993, years after Cohon had become a Canadian citizen and just before he stepped down as CEO, McDonald's 674 Canadian outlets recorded average sales of $2.3 million, 15% more than the chain's worldwide average and the highest of any major McDonald's national unit. Although McDonald's no longer breaks out the Canadian bottom line separately (Canada is lumped in with the Middle East and Africa), it appears to remain a bright spot, helping to offset the bleeding McDonald's has suffered in Europe thanks to the mad-cow scare. Last year, sales at
McDonald's 1,154 Canadian outlets totalled $2.14 billion, up 8% from 1999. For this year, McDonald's first-quarter financial report trumpets "positive comparable sales and expansion for Canada."

As left-leaning young Quebeckers, McDuff and Cromp never quite felt at home in the McFamily. McDuff is the son of a postal worker and his stay-at-home wife. Cromp's parents are both social workers in Montreal's poverty-stricken Pointe Saint-Charles neighbourhood. Both teenagers are political activists — Cromp, as a card-carrying member of the Parti Québécois's radical wing, McDuff as a sympathizer of the anti-globalization movement.

To Cromp and McDuff, the Krocisms seemed disingenuous. Instead of fostering teamwork, they felt managers often pitted employees against one another. They felt it was not the best workers who were promoted, but rather the most obedient. The latter, the two say, were encouraged to blow the whistle on co-workers who criticized managers.

The two young men thought things went from bad to worse at the Peel Street outlet after franchisee Michel Marchand brought in a new manager, Ismael Mejnaoui, in early 2000. "He laid down the law," McDuff says. "So we were forced to rush even more." By the summer of 2000, the minimum wage had risen to $7. McDuff was making $7.60 after two years on the job and had climbed only a single rung to crew trainer. Cromp, too, had moved up just a notch and was earning $7.75. One evening, while waiting on a subway platform after work, Cromp asked McDuff what he thought about forming a union. Recalls McDuff: "We realized we had nothing to lose."

In June, 2000, Cromp and McDuff sent an e-mail to the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), Quebec's second-largest trade-union central and its most staunchly social democratic. Days later, the two met with CSN organizers Henri van Meerbeck and Kevin Schwankner. Both knew the fast-food industry well. Van Meerbeck, 50, had successfully organized dozens of restaurants, including several Kentucky Fried Chickens and a McDonald's outlet in Saint-Hubert, Que. — which would have been a singular achievement, but for the fact that the restaurant closed shortly afterward. Schwankner, 36, joined the CSN after working 12 years at a Harvey's in the Montreal suburb of Brossard. During his stint there, the outlet was organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Working conditions improved dramatically. The union won the adoption of a formal pay scale (with a starting salary pegged 35 cents above the minimum wage), with regular raises and promotions based on seniority. Labour relations and health and workplace safety committees were set up with employee and management representatives. Employees won the right to be accompanied by a union representative in all their disciplinary dealings with management, and a formal process for investigating grievances was established. Managers were prohibited from cutting employee hours without giving sufficient notice. Employees working after 8 p.m. won an extra 30 cents an hour.

(It's not surprising that it is in Quebec that unions have been most active in attempting to organize the fast-food industry. The province remains Canada's most union-friendly: 39.9% of Quebec workers belong to unions, compared to a national average of 32%, and the province has some of the farthest-reaching workforce regulations on the continent.)

McDuff and Cromp liked what they heard and began talking to their co-workers — quietly, having been warned by their CSN mentors of what could happen if McDonald's management got wind of their scheme. McDonald's had become legendary for dispatching a "flying squad" of experienced officials to any restaurant where a union incursion loomed. The task of these officials was to warn employees of the pitfalls of unionization and the benefits of keeping the McFamily united. Literally hundreds of unionization attempts at outlets in North America had been pre-empted this way in the past. "At first, we knew not to mention the word 'union,'" remembers McDuff. "Our first goal was simply to make employees conscious of their working conditions."

On July 31, 2000, Cromp and McDuff were confident a strong majority of employees felt as they did, and proceeded to launch the critical sign-up drive. Time was of the essence; they feared a failure to sign up a majority of employees quickly would doom their initiative as McDonald's swept in with its flying squad. Cromp and McDuff worked feverishly over a 36-hour period to meet individually with each employee. In the end, about three-quarters signed union cards. "I knew we were asking for trouble," says Patrick Bibeau, now 19, a crew worker at the Peel outlet. "But I was for it."

"Unions are inimical to what we stand for and how we operate." – former McDonald's Corp. labour relations chief John Cooke

"If every single member of a crew in a particular restaurant joined a union, (McDonald's) would still not negotiate with the union." - McDonald's U.K. vice-president Sidney Nicholson

With $40 billion (U.S.) in worldwide sales, McDonald's remains the globe's dominant restaurant chain and the world's most recognized brand. More than 45 million people — including three million Canadians — eat at McDonald's on any given day. Last year, it served 16.5 billion (including repeat) customers. The company, headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., is the world's largest owner of real estate (it typically makes most of its profits as a landlord to its franchisees), the largest U.S. purchaser of beef, pork and potatoes, the globe's biggest operator of playgrounds. It employs 75,000 Canadians, half a million Americans. North American teens depend on McDonald's more than any other single organization for their first job.

McDonald's did not become so ubiquitous by being a pushover. Kroc, who died in 1984, has often been depicted as a despot. He forbade restaurants from hiring women until a labour shortage forced him to relent in 1968. Even then, Kroc insisted that female employees be "kind of flat-chested" and devoid of distracting accoutrements such as eye shadow or nail polish.

Kroc's successors, including current CEO Jack Greenberg, have continued the tradition of central control through the fastidious store inspections the company uses to enforce operating disciplines, which are mind-bogglingly extensive. The operations manual provided to franchisees runs to more than 700 pages. The company's mantra, QSC & V (a Krocism that stands for quality, service, cleanliness and value) should have a "U" tacked on for "uniformity." While some local menu items are tolerated, franchisees undertake to ensure that customers are treated to exactly the same experience — from the look, taste and “mouthfeel" of the food to the speed with which it is served – whether they are in Montreal or Moscow, Boston or Bahrain.

Providing such uniform service leaves little leeway for flexible working conditions. Were unions to significantly infiltrate McDonald's operations, the company's ability to dictate the conditions under which its restaurants operate would be greatly reduced. Hence, McDonald's, or at least its franchisees, have consistently fought to keep unions out of their operations the world over. In North America, they have a perfect track record of rebuffing organized labour. Unions have made inroads in continental Europe and Mexico. Even where unions exist, the absence of closed-shop labour laws means that usually only a minority of employees are covered. In Russia, where Cohon opened the first McDonald's in 1990 and where McDonald's of Canada continues to jointly oversee operations, only 17 of 450 workers belong to the union at McComplex, the food-processing facility in Moscow. A committee of the State Duma, citing alleged intimidation tactics used by McDonald's, recently concluded it "violated the rights of citizens to establish a labour union."

The company's antipathy toward organized labour came under the microscope at London's so-called McLibel trial in the mid-1990s. The company had sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris, two Greenpeace activists, for their part in distributing a pamphlet that delineated a litany of alleged transgressions by McDonald's — from animal and environmental abuse to selling unhealthy food.

While the trial produced some startling revelations — McDonald's, it was learned, had infiltrated London Greenpeace with paid informers in 1989 — labour issues provided perhaps the most sparks. The trial revealed that, after an employee was fatally electrocuted by a fat-filtering machine in 1992, a U.K. Health and Safety Executive report concluded: "The application of McDonald's hustle policy (i.e., getting staff to work at speed) in many restaurants was, in fact, putting the service of the customer before the safety of employees." McDonald's U.K. acknowledged having been convicted of 73 offences in relation to the employment of young people in the early 1980s. McDonald's officials were questioned about John Cooke, the company's U.S. labour relations head in the 1970s, whose job it was to keep unions out. Cooke's tactics, which had defeated some 400 unionization attempts in the United States, included using flying squads, "rap sessions" with employees and "stroking." Company officials also admitted that in 1973, employees in San Francisco had been asked to take polygraph tests during a bitter union drive.

Judge Rodger Bell issued an 800-page ruling in February, 1996. Although he ordered Steel and Morris to pay McDonald's £60,000 in damages (later reduced to £40,000), the duo came out looking like victors. McDonald's said it had no intention of collecting the money and would no longer try to quash the pamphlet. But the bad publicity from the trial had taken its toll on the company's image. And Judge Bell's ruling didn't help. Although Steel and Morris failed to prove that McDonald's had a formal policy of thwarting unionization, the judge found, "as a fact," that McDonald's is "strongly antipathetic to any idea of unionization of crew in their restaurants."

"A union at McDonald's would answer no need and would only complicate things. It would be a fifth wheel…And in an organization such as ours, if something is unnecessary it's not a neutral presence. It's counterproductive." - McDonald's of Canada senior chairman George Cohon

In Canada, McDonald's has denied any direct involvement in fighting unionization, insisting such matters are strictly between employees and their franchisee. "McDonald's is not anti-union. McDonald's is pro-employee," one official told The Globe and Mail in 1997. (McDonald's Restaurants of Canada officials refused to be interviewed for this article and, in recent years, have consistently spurned all media requests for comments on the union matter.)

Once a unionization effort is under way, time is the union's greatest enemy. The longer a McDonald's franchisee can prolong labour board hearings on an accreditation request, the greater the odds the union drive will fail. Workers grow weary, legal bills pile up for the union, and annual employee turnover — typically 75% or more in the fast food industry — dilutes the ranks of union sympathizers.

The high turnover rate is attributable to a single factor: More than two-thirds of fast food workers are under 20. As Eric Schlosser notes in his recent book Fast Food Nation, "Fast food kitchens often seem like a scene from Bugsy Malone, a film in which all the actors are children pretending to be adults. …There's nothing about the work in a fast food kitchen that requires young employees. Instead of relying on a small, stable, well-paid and well-trained workforce, the fast food industry seeks out part-time, unskilled workers who are willing to accept low pay. Teenagers have been the perfect candidates for these jobs, not only because they are less expensive to hire than adults, but also because their youthful inexperience makes them easier to control."

About a dozen unionization attempts have been launched at McDonald's outlets in Canada in the past decade. None has been a success in the long run. In recent years, unions have organized a dozen Starbucks and 50 KFC outlets in British Columbia, and dozens more Harvey's, Tim Hortons, KFC and St-Hubert BBQ Chicken restaurants in Quebec. McDonald's remains the union movement's toughest nut. Franchisees have made remarkably similar responses to ensure it remains that way:

In 1993, the Service Employees International Union signed up 67 of 102 employees at a McDonald's in Orangeville, Ont. A week before the certification application was filed, a McDonald's human relations specialist showed up at the restaurant to "chat" with employees. McDonald's said this was a coincidence. The franchisee, Cam Ballantyne, fought the union bid during months of hearings at the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Formerly pro-union employees suddenly came forward to withdraw their signatures; lawyers for others cited the Age of Majority Act to claim they were too young to unionize. The change-of-heart group, mostly minimum-wage earners, did not say who paid their lawyer. Meanwhile, Ballantyne treated anti-union employees to a tobogganing party. He posted a notice on the staff bulletin board, claiming wages at unionized fast food restaurants were lower. After months of wrangling, the union agreed to a new vote. It lost 77 to 19.

In 1997, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters signed up 51 of 62 employees at a McDonald's outlet in St-Hubert, Que. The franchisees, Tom and Mike Capelli, hired lawyers from Fasken Martineau Dumoulin, a major national corporate law firm. New managers were recruited from McDonald's of Canada to run the restaurant. The Capellis' lawyers challenged the accreditation request before a Quebec labour commissioner, claiming the union needed to sign up a majority of workers at all six of the brothers' McDonald's franchises. After hearings held over several weeks, the commissioner rejected the claim. Then, six anti-union employees hired their own lawyer (they didn't say who paid him) to challenge the impartiality of the commissioner. Quebec's Court of Appeal rejected their claim. In early March, 1998, the labour commissioner issued a final ruling certifying the union. It was too late. Two weeks earlier, the Capellis had suddenly closed down their restaurant.

Also in 1997, the Teamsters signed up 41 of 54 employees at a McDonald's outlet in Montreal's Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood. The franchisee, Laurent Vignola, also argued — unsuccessfully — that the union needed to sign up a majority of employees at all of his franchises. Then, he hired about 40 new part-time employees, arguing before the labour commission that the union no longer had a majority of the outlet's employees behind it. He lost on that point too. The hearings, however, hit an impasse after weeks of arguments. Ultimately, the Teamsters agreed to a new vote in early 1999, but by then only 12 of the outlet's original 54 employees remained. The union lost.

In 1998, the Canadian Auto Workers signed up a majority of the 85 employees at a McDonald's restaurant in Squamish, B.C. The franchisee, Paul Savage, hired 28 new employees and went before the B.C. Labour Relations Board to argue, unsuccessfully, that the new group should be included in the vote. Then, a group of dissident employees hired their own lawyer, and went before the board, claiming that under the Infant Act they were ineligible for union membership. They lost. The union was recognized and sought to negotiate a first contract, but no progress was made. Under B.C. law, an employer can ask for a new vote if no contract has been signed within 10 months. Savage sought a new vote in 1999. This time, the batch of employees Savage hired the year before were included, while many of the original pro-union employees had left. Employees voted 45 to 26 to decertify.

"People are our one true thing. We succeed or fail every day, in every restaurant, because of our people." - McDonald's Corp. CEO Jack Greenberg, April, 2000

"Simply put, we aspire to be the best employer in each community around the world" - McDonald's Corp. 2000 Annual Report

Patrick Bibeau worked the closing shift at the Peel Street McDonald's on Aug. 2, 2000. The atmosphere was tense. Earlier in the day, the union's request for certification had been filed with the Quebec's Bureau du Commissaire-général du Travail (labour relations office). Bibeau and his pro-union cohorts knew their bold gesture would not go unanswered by franchisee Michel Marchand. But little did they anticipate how swiftly and broadly their challenge would be met.

Just after 8 p.m., Marchand arrived at the outlet with a new manager in tow. Anna Mancuso, who had earlier managed Laurent Vignola's Plateau Mont-Royal restaurant during its union bid, came to Peel Street directly from McDonald's of Canada's regional headquarters – even though franchisees are expressly forbidden from hiring corporate employees. Marchand would later tell labour commissioner Michel Denis that an "emergency" forced him to bring in Mancuso. The latter, according to labour board transcripts, was accompanied by an "adviser" from McDonald's regional head office. Shortly after their arrival, two dozen teenagers — hired that very day — were brought by bus to the restaurant for their orientation. Most would later tell the labour board that they were contacted, interviewed and hired within minutes by Marchand. None ended up working more than a few hours a week. But their hiring boosted the payroll at Peel Street to 69 non-management employees.

Within days, Marchand had hired new lawyers, led by Benoît Turmel, the same Fasken Martineau solicitor who had represented both the Capelli brothers and Laurent Vignola in their battles against the Teamsters in St-Hubert and Plateau Mont-Royal. Turmel sought to raise the bar. He asked commissioner Denis to include the 24 newly-hired employees in the tally for the union vote and to deem all four of Marchand's McDonald's franchises as part of the bargaining unit. A positive verdict on either motion would have put the pro-union employees in the minority and doomed the certification bid.

While his lawyers led the legal battle, Marchand was busy on other fronts. In September, he suspended McDuff for a week for having "publicly tarnished" the restaurant's image during a pro-union rally. During the rally, McDuff denounced the "abuse" employees had undergone since the union bid was tabled — including the suggestion that union dues would reach 40% of workers' salaries instead of the typical 2.5%. After the rally, Marchand posted a letter on the staff bulletin board: "I take these accusations personally and they hurt….The [pro-union] rally disappoints me. Acts like that perturb our ability to serve our customers and work as a team." Marchand warned employees not to become pawns in "a bigger agenda for the CSN," and he ended by thanking them for their support "in these difficult times." McDuff and Cromp dismissed Marchand's appeal. But other employees took it more seriously, especially since Marchand, who had rarely visited the restaurant before the union bid was tabled, seemed to be always at the outlet now, gamefully chatting up employees. He also began treating them to frequent outings. Cromp learned of one trip to a local water park only after the group left without him. It didn't matter; he, along with the other union leaders, had been scheduled to work that day.

In November, barely a week before Denis was to table a final ruling, lawyer Philippe Garceau and his associates intervened to claim they had just been hired by a group of five Peel Street employees to challenge the union bid. He asked Denis to delay a ruling until he could prepare a case. He refused to name the anti-union employees or to disclose who paid his fees. In his Nov. 24 final ruling, Denis dismissed Garceau's attempt to intervene as yet another "stalling tactic."

Denis was even more scathing toward Marchand. The sudden hiring of 24 new employees — a number representing more than half of the restaurant's workers before Aug. 2 — "was a scheme to improperly inflate the number of workers and thus deprive the [union] of its representative character," Denis concluded. Denis noted that in the month following the union's tabling of its certification request, Marchand had hired a total of 32 new employees at the Peel Street outlet but only seven new workers at all three of his other franchises. He noted too that one of the 24 employees hired on Aug. 2 had only accompanied a friend and had not even filled out a job application. "Either [Marchand] is remarkably effective at rapidly recruiting personnel," Denis observed drily, "or he acted precipitously to counter the union organization." He ended his ruling with these words: "The labour commissioner hereby certifies le Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs du McDo -CSN [the McDo Workers' Union-CSN]."

Overnight, McDuff, Cromp and their cohorts became heroes in Quebec — painted in the media as teenage Davids triumphing over a corporate Goliath. The Peel Street outlet became the only unionized McDonald's in North America. Within days, however, Garceau appealed to Quebec's Tribunal du Travail (an appellate tribunal in labour relations cases) to have the certification set aside on behalf of the dissident employees. He argued that Denis was not impartial, had insulted him and had failed to consider his clients' claim that they had not paid a nominal $2 fee when signing their union cards, a violation of Quebec's labour law. Almost six months later, Judge Louis Morin rejected Garceau's complaints, noting that Denis and his agents had led an "exceptional" investigation to authenticate the representative nature of the union. Judge Morin found "quite normal, given the circumstances, that [Denis] question the seriousness of [Garceau's] intervention." Rather than insulting Garceau, Denis was simply expressing his "exasperation" at Garceau's refusal to name his clients and to appear in person before Denis (he sent an articling student). "If I had been in the commissioner's place," Judge Morin concluded, "I wouldn't have been so patient."

Morin's decision, coming in May, was merely a moral victory for the union. In late April, Marchand had suddenly announced he would close the Peel Street outlet by the end of the summer. His reason: a three-fold rent increase. The union challenged Marchand's explanation, noting that the Peel Street building's commercial value had been recently reduced on city rolls to $1.6 million from $2.3 million in 1995, a change apt to make rent go down rather than up. Besides, the union argued, the outlet was in the heart of downtown Montreal's busiest office and shopping district — the Sainte-Catherine Street strip — where business is the briskest it's been in years. Nevertheless, on June 22, on the eve of Quebec's St-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations, Marchand told employees the Peel Street outlet would close that evening. With only a few hours notice, they were out of a job. By the next morning, the golden arches and other McDonald's signage that had adorned the building for 25 years had been taken down.

"It seems as though McDonald's is becoming more sophisticated with every organizing attempt," sighs Sarah Inglis, who led the union bid in Orangeville eight years ago and now works as an organizer for the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International Union in Toronto. "It would be unusual to see the same type of tactics used by several individual franchisees in different parts of the country unless the umbrella body, McDonald's of Canada, was giving them a helping hand." Roger Crowther, the CAW national representative who organized the Squamish McDonald's in 1998, agrees. While attempting to negotiate a first contract, Crowther sat across from two lawyers — a rarity, he says, in his 25-year union career. "Here's this franchisee who's telling me he can't pay more than the minimum wage but who has not one, but two, full-time lawyers." Adds Edward Kravitz, the CSN lawyer who led the Peel union's case before the labour board: "If it walks like a duck, has web feet and quacks, it's probably a duck." But even Kravitz concedes it's almost impossible to prove McDonald's unbroken success in beating back unions in North America is a formal company policy, orchestrated and bankrolled by head office.

The thing about McDonald's and unions, though, is that for every organization bid that fails, another is born. In April this year, workers at the McDonald's outlet in Rawdon, Que., a resort town of about 9,000 northeast of Montreal, were granted union certification after the franchisee suddenly sold his restaurant. The new owner agreed to talk to the union. But the CSN is not holding its breath. McDonald's franchisees have a track record as tough negotiators. Under Quebec labour law, the Rawdon franchisee, Sylvain Vincent, can seek a decertification vote next spring if no contract has been signed. That is, if the outlet is still open by then. CSN negotiator Jean Archambault worries Vincent might simply shut the place once the tourist season is over.

If the outlet does close, it, like the Peel Street restaurant, will be an anomaly. In 1999 and 2000, McDonald's says, "less than 1% of existing restaurant locations closed" in Canada. What's more, it plans to open 300 new Canadian outlets within three years, buttressing this country's status as McDonald's biggest market after the United States and Japan.

As for McDuff and Cromp, they, like all the teenage veterans of the union war, have moved on. McDuff will study political science at the Université de Montréal this fall, while working part-time at a community radio station. He wants to become a journalist one day. Cromp, meanwhile, has loftier ambitions. When not training at the track – his personal best is 10.8 seconds in the 100 metres — he dreams of eventually becoming premier of Quebec. As Ray Kroc would have said, press on, boys, press on.


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