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Montreal shopkeepers told to put brooms away Graeme Hamilton, National Post Published: Saturday, July 19, 2008 A labour arbitrator has ruled that sweeping sidewalks in Montreal is the exclusive domain of the city's blue-collar unionized employees. The arbitrator found a bylaw on keeping Montreal tidy violates the city's collective agreement.Dave Sidaway, Canwest News Service File PhotoA labour arbitrator has ruled that sweeping sidewalks in Montreal is the exclusive domain of the city's blue-collar unionized employees. The arbitrator found a bylaw on keeping Montreal tidy violates ... MONTREAL - A bylaw adopted last year obliging shopkeepers and apartment owners in downtown Montreal to sweep in front of their properties has spruced up the city. Fewer cigarette butts and fast-food wrappers litter the sidewalks, and garbage bags are no longer left out for days before the trucks pass. But acting on a complaint from the union representing Montreal's blue-collar employees, a labour arbitrator has ruled that the bylaw violates the city's collective agreement with its workers. Sidewalkcleaning is the exclusive domain of the blue-collars, arbitrator Andre Rousseau concluded, and the city has no business enlisting "volunteers" to do the work. The decision effectively means that city sidewalks and streets are a closed union shop, so anyone taking a broom in hand had better watch out. The blue-collars are notoriously jealous of their turf. In 2003, workers waged a campaign of intimidation against private contractors who had been hired by the city for such jobs as cutting grass and repairing sidewalks. Jean-Yves Hinse, Montreal's director of professional relations, said the city will appeal the ruling to Quebec Superior Court. "If it is interpreted broadly, not a minute goes by that we are not breaking the collective agreement," Mr. Hinse said. "Someone is picking up some paper, someone is sweeping his balcony." Mr. Hinse also worried that the ruling undermines efforts to foster a sense of civic responsibility in Montrealers. "We don't want Montreal to become a dump," he said. "Everyone has their responsibilities. We want citizens to have the responsibility of keeping their surroundings clean and safe. It's an appeal to their civic virtues." The cleanliness bylaw was introduced in 2007 after city officials despaired that Montreal was becoming overrun with garbage. Fines range from $125 to $2,000 for individuals, depending on the seriousness of the offence. Companies can be fined up to $4,000. Benoit Labonte, Mayor of the downtown borough of Ville-Marie, boasted last month that 2,700 tickets had been issued in the first year of the bylaw's application, with fines totalling more than $1-million. "I congratulate all citizens, because during the past year we have seen a clear improvement in the cleanliness of the borough," he said. But the bylaw had been in force less than a month when Michel Parent, president of the blue-collar union, filed a grievance complaining the city was assigning blue-collar work to "volunteers or non-profit groups," which is not permitted under the collective agreement. The city countered that it was simply imposing duties on property owners, who are not volunteers in the sense of the collective agreement. Mr. Rousseau concluded that sweeping the streets and sidewalks customarily falls under the blue-collars' jurisdiction. The bylaw, he said, "patently aims to give citizens responsibilities similar to those that are usually given to blue-collar employees." He ordered the city to ensure cleaning of sidewalks, roads and laneways was done by its employees. Mr. Parent said the city should hire more workers if it wants a tidy city. "If this is work that was done by blue-collar employees, it should continue to be done by blue-collar employees," he told Radio-Canada. "We are fighting to save those jobs." Peter Sergakis, an outspoken property owner who was initially critical of the bylaw, acknowledged that the city is now cleaner. "The blue-collar workers wouldn't bend to pick up a cigarette butt. They're spoiled," he said. "I don't have much faith that they're going to clean the sidewalk. I think we're going to go back to the dirt." The case is unlikely to help the union's image problem. Union members were suspected of vandalizing private contractors' equipment during a labour dispute and dumping pig manure in the apartment building of an elected city official. In the winter of 2006, as potholes cratered Montreal streets, an internal city investigation secretly followed three work crews. The 10 workers enjoyed marathon lunch breaks but only managed to fill nine potholes over three days. [email protected]