McGill security guards walked off the job Friday, May 7, after going as long as five weeks without pay and battling a bankrupt employer.
The Bureau canadien d’investigation et d’ajustement (BCIA), which employed all security guards at McGill, entered bankruptcy protection on Thursday, April 29, citing debts of over $20 million. McGill cancelled their contract with BCIA the week of May 10.
Around 80 of 100 McGill agents saw their cheques bounce on Friday, April 23, sources said. Promised payment also failed to materialize on Tuesday of the last week, May 4, and again on Friday, May 7.
Cheques from BCIA arrived late on Friday, May 7, and many guards returned to work on Monday, May 10.
However, a security guard, who cited a confidentiality agreement signed by all McGill guards and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that some guards’ cheques had once again bounced. “Apparently there’s a limited amount of funds,” he said.
As of the afternoon of Tuesday, May 11, some guards were still waiting for cheques to clear
BCIA was granted $800,000 in financing by Quebec businessman Giaochinno Arduini on Monday, May 3, so that they could continue to pay their employees.
However, a security guard said that, “None of the patrollers showed up today [Friday, May 7]…. They told us there would be cheques at noon today, then 2:00, then later this afternoon…” He said that nearly 30 guards did not show up to work on Friday.
Head of McGill Security Services, Pierre Barbarie said that the delay had to do with banking. “Certified cheques were to be delivered. It was a delay with the bank. They can’t just certify 100 cheques in an hour.”
However, the Métallos union representative for the BCIA guards, Dominique Lemieux, was less certain that payment would be forthcoming. “The company was supposed to have certified cheques, but [those] didn’t show up, so there will just be normal cheques,” he said in French.
Meanwhile, McGill used members of Security Services management to fill in for the missing guards. “The service side of things is still there. If it’s not my McGill management then it’s agency personnel,” Barbarie said.
McGill does not employ guards directly, instead contracting private agencies to provide personnel. BCIA was at McGill since 2004, and its most recent contract, renewed last year, was set to run until 2012. The agency has been replaced by Swedish security firm Securitas.
The guards speaking to The Daily under conditions of anonymity expressed long-running frustration with BCIA. “If we don’t calculate the paycheques ourselves, they’re going to try to remove the money, try to give less money to us,” one agent said.
A second agent echoed those concerns. “I remember when BCIA came in July 2004. It’s been hell ever since. Confusion over money, paycheques,” he said.
Some of the BCIA employees targeted McGill as a source of dissatisfaction as well. “McGill did absolutely nothing for us. They set up a box of food in the office, a couple bagels,” another agent said. “They’ve washed their hands of it. They’re not accountable.”
He went on to say that McGill should not have renewed their contract with BCIA last year. “They should have investigated when they signed – when they renewed their contract.”
If there was an agency change many of the current guards would be retained, because the guards that work at McGill are specifically trained to work at the University. “Most of them just change uniform,” Barbarie noted.
The effects of BCIA’s bankruptcy have not been restricted to McGill. The company’s larger clients include the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT), the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), the Commission scolaire de Montréal and Montreal police department.
BCIA was also mired in a high-level political scandal when Quebec family minister Tony Tomassi was fired by premier Jean Charest on May 6 for using a BCIA credit card.
The company’s owner and CEO, Luigi Corretti is a close friend of Tomassi’s. A May 7 report in La Presse claimed that Corretti had forced BCIA employees to attend Liberal fundraising events for which he paid, raising the possibility of illegal fundraising improprieties.
On Wednesday, Fréderic Ramos, director of operations at BCIA, said in French that the company is “going through a difficult period, but there are still two years left with McGill and normal operations will continue like in the past.” As of Friday, BCIA declined to comment on the new allegations or the continued lack of payment for guards.
This story is in development