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Valley public sector employees stand together during morning protest

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 Monday morning.

Around 420,000 employees, including those at all local schools and hospitals as well as health and social service centres, walked off the job at midnight in protest over stalled contract negotiations with the provincial government. 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 21-23 if an agreement is not reached before then.

“Our message this morning is clear; our negotiating teams are fully available for the next two weeks,” said Front commun spokespersons François Enault, first vice-president of the CSN, Éric Gingras, president of the CSQ, Magali Picard, president of the FTQ, and Robert Comeau, president of the APTS.

 

Striking Valley teachers support staff and educational professionals made some noise at the intersection of Routes 201 and 138 in Ormstown Monday morning PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

“The goal is to reach a win-win settlement for workers and services to the public. No one wants another strike, but we’ll be ready if we have to be,” they promised, noting the protest movement reflects their members’ determination to go all the way, up to an unlimited general strike, “if the government doesn’t get the message.”

The strike impacted schools within the New Frontiers School Board to a minimal extent. All schools in the elementary and secondary sectors were already closed for a pedagogical day. As a result, daycare services were cancelled for the entire day. Students attending classes at NFSB adult and career centres returned to classes in the afternoon, and evening courses were not affected.

 

Heritage Elementary teachers and support staff gathered at the main intersection in Huntingdon with flags and signs to protest lagging contract negotiations with the province PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

All schools within the Centre de services scolaire de la Vallée-des-Tisserands were closed in the morning to accommodate the strike but reopened to students as of 12:10 p.m. Transportation services were not offered in the morning but were back in place for the return home in the afternoon.

The Front commun resoundingly rejected the most recent contract offer presented on October 29 by Quebec Treasury Board president Sonia LeBel, which included a minimum 10.3 per cent salary increase over five years. The unions representing the public sector employees have called for an increase closer to 20 per cent over a period of three years as well as better working conditions.

 

Health care workers cheered as passing vehicles honked in support in front of the Barrie Memorial Hospital in Ormstown PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

In a post to social media early Monday morning, LeBel noted that while government employees must enjoy good working conditions, “The unions must help us improve the organization of work in our networks so that citizens also come out as winners from these negotiations with access to the services they deserve.” LeBel wrote that negotiations are not unidirectional, while suggesting the unions should table a constructive counteroffer if they are dissatisfied with the government’s offer.

Other strike dates have been announced by different unions in the coming days. Health care workers including nurses, auxiliary nurses, respiratory specialists, and other health professionals represented by the interprofessional health-care workers’ union, Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé (FIQ), are expected to launch a two-day strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week.

 

Staff from École Arthur Pigeon lined the Henderson Bridge in Huntingdon while protesting on November 6 PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

Teachers represented by the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), which includes 65,000 elementary and secondary school teachers, have announced they will start an unlimited strike on November 23 if an agreement with the government has not been reached.

Negotiations have been ongoing since the government tabled an opening offer last December.

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