No history can fully do justice to those who have militated within the ranks. Unfortunately it is impossible to publish a complete story, because our history also includes the history of all those tireless workers from the very beginning.
Canadians by birth or those whose origins are from France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Ukraine, Indonesia or the Caribbean, have all contributed to what we have become today with their vast diversity of culture and religion.
This history also teaches us a lesson in perseverance. Since the beginning of the century, all workers who have battled for more respect, more equity have not done so in vain. Generations of men and women who have followed have benefited from those battles and their sacrifices.
The acquisition of decent working conditions through the reduction of the working time, the protection of our health and safety are direct consequences of their battles. The improvement of our quality of life as people is a result in part of their actions: employment insurance, the education system, universal access to health care are amongst the many traditional demands of the union movement.
When we remember the conditions in which the workers from the last century lived and the child labour, we can have a greater admiration of the pioneers of unionism.
This same perseverance that we have inherited remains for us, the hope for a better future.
The Service Employees Union, Local 800 is an association of employees which totalizes some 20, 000 members who work in different sectors of activities spread throughout the province of Québec. At it’s roots are the needs of workers to join together to create solidarities, to increase their show of strength, to be collectively represented in order to benefit from different technical services. The national and international union organization is a means we have to establish ties between the other workers from our sectors of activities.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
The SEIU is a union of some 2.5 million members spread throughout various locals in the United States of America, Québec and the rest of Canada as well as Porto Rico. It was the first union within North America. The SEU 800 is a local of the Service Employees International Union.
Why an International Union?
Within the universe of unionism, exists what is called a “jurisdiction”; which means that each union is very present and representative of a sector of activity. Today the unions, as a mean of survival, have wandered a bit beyond their jurisdictions but have remained fundamentally attached to their sector of activity by offering to all members essentially the same services.
The SEIU is present within the service sectors, initially within the public buildings; then within the health care services and finally within the other types of services and industries. It is with this presence within the service sectors that the SEIU was able to increase in strength and hence allow us to join their ranks.
The history of the SEU 800 is directly related to all of the Quebec, Canadian and American union movement, regardless if their ideas are not the same, their goals were the same. In 1921 the Building Service Employees International Union (BSEIU) was founded in Chicago. It had some 3,000 members. At the start of the 1940’s a local was born in Montreal but only lasted for about ten years. Slowly but surely the BSEIU was developing in Canada.
The history of the SEU began back in April 1946 when twelve elevator operators within a public building of Montreal obtained a charter as the BSEIU, which resulted in the birth of Local 298. In October 1947 a group of employees from the St-Luc Hospital joined their ranks. During the years that followed, Local 298 unionized many larger hospitals in Montreal. Following which, the maintenance employees from the public buildings came along and increased the ranks of Local 298.
In 1962, Armand Jolicoeur who acted as a union representative was elected President of Local 298. In order to allow the local to get its second wind, it was made up of organizer Roger Saint-Marseille, union representatives Georges Saint-Amour, Aimé Gohier and Ange-Albert Pelletier as well as lawyer, Me Louis Duval. Up until 1967, due to this team, the number of members increased by more than 5,000 of which 1,500 came from 12 different hospitals that were governed under the same collective agreement.
Towards the end of the 60’s, Armand Jolicoeur became the first Quebec representative to the executive council of the BSEIU. During the same years, several upsets in Quebec within the social services brought about the creation of hospital insurance followed by the Quebec Health Insurance. The administration of these programs by the government greatly helped the unionization of the employees within this sector and as such Local 298.
Due to the expansion of the health and public sectors, the BSEIU modified their official designation during their convention in 1968, by removing the word “building” from their name to become known as the Service Employees International Union.
The numerous problems that the maintenance contractors caused within the public buildings (movement of personnel lay off for union activities, revoking of contracts, etc.) caused Local 298 to convince the Quebec Government to create a Law for the decrees of this industry. The first decree was promulgated for the city of Quebec in 1969 and covered 1,500 workers. After overcoming many difficulties, the decree for Montreal was promulgated in 1975 then extended to cover the region of Outaouais in 1991.
In 1974, Aimé Gohier, who was the President of Local 298, obtained a position on the Executive Council of the SEIU following the death of Mr. Armand Jolicoeur. During the convention of the SEIU in 1976, another episode of autonomy was designed. After howling debates, an agreement was concluded with regards to the representation on the position of the SEIU Vice-President. As such, the position of the Canadian Vice-President was maintained and a francophone Canadian Vice-President position was created for Québec, a position occupied by Aimé Gohier. This right of independence favorised Local 298 who would see their ranks grow by 7,000 new members before the end of the century.
The anti-unionism of governments and boss’s was very much present. We needed to put in place new ways of obtaining the support of the local population during our union battles. In 1980, 400 members of Local 298 working for McGill University obtained the support of the teaching personnel and the students during a course boycott, picket lines and demonstrations. At the end of the twelfth day, the union obtained their security of employment.
In 1982, the PQ government decreed salary cuts of 20% and suspended the right of the employees from the public sector to strike. Twenty-two thousand members of Local 298 joined the other 200,000 employees from the public sector in work stoppages that brought about a softening of the law.
Creation of Local 800 – October 1986
October 1986 is an important date in our history. Local 298 which groups together members from the public and private sectors decided to divide into two unions. In order to respond to the needs of its members more effectively, Local 800 obtained from the Service Employees International Union its own Charter in October 1986. It would mainly represent the workers from the private sector, which had specific needs that differed from those of the public sector.
Local 800 obtained the representation of members working in the school and university support sector, within the building maintenance and the various sectors of activities from within the private enterprises, whereas Local 298 pursued their mandate in the public sector.
On the other hand, the parity committee from the building maintenance was created following pressure by our association to preserve the rights within the public building maintenance sector and the maintenance of the decree for building maintenance. Since then, Local 800 continues its mission to defend workers rights.
Aimé Gohier then became the President of Local 800. The evolution of Local 800 continued in 1991 with the arrival of Rhéal Martin, who was then elected to the executive council of the SEIU in 1992. During a symposium of 165 members, Local 800 inaugurated their new head office in October 1992. In the year 2000, Rhéal Martin took his retirement and the members elected a new President with the arrival of Raymond Larcher. Mr. Larcher also sits as a member of the Executive Council at the SEIU since June of 2000. Raymond Larcher grown the union of 15,000 to 20,000 members by merging the clothing and textile union “UTIS” with SIU 800. The union is also increased to 5 divisions; Education support, building maintenance, Clothing-textile and hospitality, Industries, Service-commerce’s-financial institution and transport division. Within SIU 800, women and youth play an important role, as well as education. In July 2021, Raymond Larcher retired and Cristina Cabral was elected President of the SEU. She is the first woman to head the SEU. Ms. Cabral also serves as a member of the SEIU Executive Council.
Towards the end of the 1990’s, the Canadian Locals of the SEIU agree to acquire more autonomy and create the Canadian Council of the SEIU during their founding convention held in Montreal in 2001. As well, since the start of the 1970’s, Local 298 from Québec demanded and obtained further autonomy and since 1986, Local 298 and 800 have maintained their joint efforts in the same direction. In 2003, they further obtained full management of the monies consecrated to the different services rendered by the SEIU towards the Locals to which they were destined.
To better serve our members, the structure of the SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION, LOCAL 800 is of a national manner.