‘Tired and exhausted’: CEGEP workers hit the picket lines

"People are leaving the CEGEPS," says Kathrin Peter, of the CSN. With the Quebec public workers strike, she hopes the government will speed up negotiations to agree on better conditions for staff. Anastasia Dextrene reports.

Striking CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal professors and staff made their voices heard outside the school Tuesday morning.

Bundled up and braving the cold, strike participants at the CEGEP in Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles joined forces with other CEGEP staff across the province in opting for job action.

Unions in the “Common Front” of striking public-sector workers represent most of Quebec’s CEGEP staff. The words “Front Commun Tous Unis” were plastered on the building’s windows.

“They don’t want to discuss our demands, only their own demands, which are attacks on our working conditions,” said Kathrin Peter, the second vice-president of the Fédération des Professionnels de la CSN (FP-CSN).

“It’s very worrisome because our people are leaving the CEGEPs in huge numbers. They go working for universities, private sector, they’re tired and exhausted.”

Teachers and staff strike outside CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal Nov. 21, 2023. (Anastasia Dextrene, CityNews)

Union reps say income is the highest priority, adding they don’t want educators to be treated as second-class citizens.

“Salary-wise they’re offering us like 10 per cent,” said Eric Cyr, president of the Fédération du Personnel Professionnel des Collèges (FPPC). “And the government is forecasting 18.1 per cent inflation for the same five years. So our salaries are already very low compared to comparable positions in the labour market. So we can’t sign 10 per cent.”

While salary is the biggest factor in the strike, the unionized workers say there’s much more on the table, including measures to retain CEGEP staff.

“We need resources in order to lighten our workload,” said Yves de Repentigny, vice-president of the Fédération Nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ). “We need also resources to make sure that people can have tenure. Some people are non-permanent for years and years.”

“What we want is that the employers take responsibility for the workload,” added Peter. “Make sure that people aren’t overworked. We want more autonomy for our people.”

Teachers and staff strike outside CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal Nov. 21, 2023. (Anastasia Dextrene, CityNews)

Another portion of the demands by CEGEP staff pertains to online work.

“We want to have a framework for online learning,” said de Repentigny. “There’s a lot of pressure on CEGEPs to offer online learning, but we have to make sure that the conditions are good so that learning conditions are good as well.”

“We’d like to have more access to telework and be able to determine our own working schedule to a certain point,” added Cyr. “So positions would be more attractive.”

Negotiations for the renewal of collective agreements began more than a year ago. Union reps say they are frustrated by the government’s slow response.

“They’re very polite,” said de Repentigny. “They’re listening, but they’re not offering anything to help better our working conditions.”

Teachers and staff strike outside CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal Nov. 21, 2023. (Anastasia Dextrene, CityNews)

Union representatives are hoping progress is made soon.

“It’s always, ‘we have to think about it,'” said Riccardo Pavoni, president of the CSN Secteur Soutien CEGEP. “It takes two weeks to have a response on their behalf. So we want something to come out of it. Anything would be positive.”

“We really hope that within the next day or within the next hours ideally the government really changes attitude and starts negotiating,” added Peter.

Teachers and staff strike outside CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal Nov. 21, 2023. (Anastasia Dextrene, CityNews)

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