Striking teachers, support staff, and educational professionals, as well as public sector employees in health and social services, were out in force across the Valley on November 6 to protest stalled contract negotiations.
The Front commun, which represents four major trade unions, issued a statement before the expected end of the innovative strike at 10:30 a.m., announcing the timing of a second round of strike action later this month. Workers will strike over three days from November 21 to 23 if an agreement is not reached before then.
Nick Ross, the president of the Chateauguay Valley Teachers Association (CVTA), says there was a lot of honking and waving on November 6. “It was great to see,” he admits, while suggesting the high levels of public support for striking workers is likely being stoked by the simple fact that almost everyone relates to someone who works in the public sector and is affected by this situation.
Ross says he hopes the government was listening and presents something over the next few days “that can at least be considered by those who represent the members.”
The Front commun resoundingly rejected the most recent contract offer presented by Quebec Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel, which included a minimum 10.3 per cent salary increase over five years. Ross says that in order to keep up with current inflation predictions, the government would have to offer at least 17.7 per cent. He argues that the government’s offer ignores the inflationary purchasing power that has already been lost by workers since 2022. “The government is literally ignoring that it even happened,” he says of rising interest rates.
In a message to the government, Front commun spokespersons promised their negotiating teams will be fully available over the period leading up to the 72-hour strike. LeBel countered by insisting that negotiations are not unidirectional. In a post to social media, she invited the unions to table a constructive counteroffer if they are dissatisfied with the government’s current offer.
Schools to close
New Frontiers School Board director general Michael Helm confirms the board has received 72-hour strike notices from the different unions representing its staff. “For us, that means our schools, offices, and centres will be closed,” he states, suggesting there is no other option.
Helm says that while the NFSB supports its staff completely and understands their situation, he hopes this next round of strikes will result in some movement at the negotiating tables. “The thing we would like to see is no lost days for our students,” he says, noting it will be up to the board to make sure students are getting what they need for their education. The board is currently analysing strategies to ensure “all the essential learning pieces are captured by the students in case we are looking at a shortened school year.”
Teachers in the French system who are represented by the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which includes 65,000 elementary and secondary school teachers, have already announced they will start an unlimited strike on November 23 if an agreement has not been reached.
Though this will not directly impact the NFSB, the Front commun has the mandate to push its protest all the way to a general strike. A general walk out would be disruptive, Helm admits, but he is hopeful contracts can be resolved before it comes to this.