It was loud in Ormstown as striking teachers, support staff, and educational professionals with the New Frontiers School Board lined the four corners between Route 201 and Route 138 on Tuesday morning. Well over 100 demonstrators cheered and waved flags and picket signs as passers-by honked in support during the morning rush hour.
Area workers walked off the job at midnight along with over 420,000 members of the public sector unions united under the Front commun, launching a 72-hour strike that will impact education, health, and social service networks this week. Protests also took place this morning outside area health care institutions, near schools, and in front of Beauharnois MNA Claude Reid’s office in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. Local protests are expected to take place again on Wednesday, while it is anticipated that Front commun workers will join with striking members of the Fédération interprofessionelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ) outside area hospitals.
Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet announced on Monday that the province has named Mathieu Lebrun to serve as a conciliator during negotiations between the government and the Front commun, after the unions made the request last week. “Exceptional circumstances call for exceptional measures. Asking for the intervention of a conciliator at the central table has never been done before,” 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.
The Front commun is hopeful the intervention will generate real movement at the negotiation tables. “From the outset, the government has been playing to its strengths in the public arena and on social networks. Our members are fed up with these public relations strategies to the detriment of real work at the tables, and so are we,” say the union leaders, arguing that conciliation will spur the negotiations to another stage. Lebrun’s mandate to facilitate discussions officially began Tuesday morning.
Lebrun will have no decision-making powers, and any recommendations made will not be binding. The president of the Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel, who is negotiating the renewal of government contracts with the unions, has also insisted Lebrun be restricted from making recommendations concerning salaries or pension plans.
The FIQ, which represents 80,000 nurses and care professionals, as well as the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), have said they do not currently want the intervention of a conciliator in negotiations with the government. The 66,000 members of the FAE are expected to launch an unlimited general walkout on Thursday, November 23, while the FIQ will start a 48-hour strike on that day as well.
Area schools will remain closed for the duration of the strike, along with all school-related daycare services. Schools not affected by the FAE strike will reopen on Friday.