Support staff from the New Frontiers School Board, Riverside School Board, and Sir Wilfred Laurier School Board voted 95 per cent in favour of initiating strike action up to an unlimited general walkout during an assembly on September 26.
The vote took place as negotiations have stalled between the provincial government and four major unions and labour federations, the CSQ, CSN, APTS, and FTQ, which collectively represent some 420,000 workers in the health, social services, and education sectors. The unions have come together as a common front, with strike votes expected to take place during general assemblies until mid-October.
Bonnie Gilmour, the local president of SEPB 576 which represents the support staff at the NFSB and Riverside and is affiliated with the FTQ, says the results of the vote indicate a clear mandate to strike, and that her members are ready to fight for better and more secure working conditions and respectable salaries.
“We are just at a point now,” says Gilmour. “People are ready, and they are not taking strike action lightly because we all love our jobs,” she adds, noting the increased pressure on the government is a necessary step.
“We are lucky we have a group of members that really back us and who don’t take their vote lightly,” notes Gilmour. The participation rate for NFSB support staff was 41 per cent.
There is no clear timeline now as to when strike action may take place, but the decision will come from the common front once all the votes have been counted. The hope is that the additional pressure on the government from such unequivocal support for a walkout will unblock negotiations. The Quebec Treasury Board president, Sonia LeBel, has said she would like to reach a deal before the end of the year.
“We have been bringing everything to the table and we are ready to negotiate,” says Gilmour, who is participating actively in the process. “Support staff are often forgotten,” she notes, suggesting the public is less aware of the precarious reality faced by many of these workers. The union demands are on two levels, with salary negotiations taking place at the central table while sectorial tables negotiate working conditions including work overload, violence in the workplace, job precarity, and access to government programs and benefits.
The government has offered a nine per cent increase over five years with a lump-sum payment of $1,000, which the unions have rejected as being disconnected from the current realities of high inflation and cost of living. The common front is asking for a three-year contract that includes $100 per week or the Consumer Price Index (CPI) plus two per cent for the first year, the CPI plus three percent for the second year, and the CPI plus four per cent in the third year.
Support staff in the Vallée-du-Suroît section of the Syndicat de Champlain, which includes those working at schools in the Centre de service scolaire de la Vallée-des-Tisserands, returned a 96 per cent vote in favour of a strike, while teachers in the union’s Salaberry section voted 92 per cent in favour of strike action.
The members of the Chateauguay Valley Teachers Association will vote on October 11.