11/02/2013 12:12 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Renaud-Bray employees begin general strike

Employees at about a third of Renaud-Bray bookstores in Quebec are not at work today after unionized workers launched a general strike, demanding higher wages, more control of their work schedules and recognition of their job skills as booksellers.

More than 250 employees at 11 of Renaud-Bray's 31 stores began their strike at midnight Saturday, on the first weekend of the holiday shopping season that runs until the end of December.

Serge Cadieux, the executive director of the union representing Renaud-Bray employees, said the company's management is refusing to address the grievances until after the holiday season.

"The management told us they were not ready to give us a proposal on all points of the collective agreement," said Cadieux.

In a statement issued Friday night, Renaud-Bray's management said that 10 of the 11 affected branches will remain open with modified schedules.

Difficult strategy to read

The strike is less is than two months before Christmas, when, according to Cadieux, Renaud-Bray makes 70 per cent of its yearly sales.

"The strategy of the employer is hard to read... I guess they want to spend the holiday season without having the obligation to negotiate," said Cadieux.

Employees of the bookstore chain have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2012 and Cadieux said they will not return to work without a signed agreement.

Last week, employees at the bookstore chain went on a two-day strike.

"We gave a warning shot last week with a 48-hour strike, accompanied by the very clear message that we are willing to negotiate," said Cadieux.

The union called a strike following a Nov. 1 deadline, after talks broke down on Oct. 30.

The Renaud-Bray management responded by stating that the company offers "working conditions higher than the market."

The company also said that it is difficult to raise wages considering "economically unfavourable" external factors that are reducing the profitability of bookstores.

"There is a downturn in the economy, a rise in online purchases, and significant changes in consumer habits," said Denise Courteau, spokeswoman for Renaud-Bray.

With files from The Canadian Press.