‘We deserve more’: Day 1 of 3-day strikes for Quebec’s common front union

"We deserve more," said Filomena Mastrangelo, working at a Montreal elementary school, while out on the picket lines Tuesday. 420,000 public sector workers have started a three-day strike amid contract negotiations. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers are off the job for 72 hours. It’s day one of three days of strikes for Quebec’s common front union.

More than 420,000 public sector employees are off the job, including workers in education, health, and social services.

Teachers and support staff from multiple English Montreal School Board (EMSB) schools came together in RDP Tuesday.

“There’s hard-working teachers that are not paid well and we need to be supported. Please support us,” Chelsea Suan, a teacher at Gerald McShane Elementary School, told CityNews.

“We need better working conditions and we need more support at school. I’m a new teacher and it is very hard to work in these types of conditions, especially with crowded classrooms and this type of pay.

“We want to have a better working environment and help the children succeed.”

Montreal teachers common front strike
Montreal unionized public sector workers, like teachers and support staff, strike for 72 hours. Nov. 21, 2023 (CREDIT: Alyssia Rubertucci/CityNews Image)

“Groceries, rent, everything has increased much more than what he wants to give us, so he needs to come back with a better offer,” said Giuliana Terriaca, a behaviour technician at Pierre de Coubertin and a union delegate.

“I know people that have been going to food banks to get food because they can’t afford to feed their families or get a second job,” added Filomena Mastrangelo. “This is ridiculous. I’ve been in the education system for so long and we deserve more.”

Montreal teachers common front strike
Montreal unionized public sector workers, like teachers and support staff, strike for 72 hours. Nov. 21, 2023 (CREDIT: Alyssia Rubertucci/CityNews Image)

More teachers and school staff came together across Quebec, including in front of Mountainview Elementary school in Deux-Montagnes, part of Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board.

More than 1,000 people rallied at Ecole Secondaire Gerard Filion in Longueuil.

Strike supporters referenced the Quebec government’s decision to spend up to $7 million to bring the L.A. Kings to Quebec City for two pre-season NHL games, calling it a misuse of public funds.

“They deserve way more than the government is offering them because of the CAQ’s expense, like with the hockey announcement, it doesn’t make sense,” strike supporter Suzelle Jacques told CityNews.

“That’s actually ridiculous, considering we don’t have enough money to pay for our own support staff, our own school staff, our own hospital staff, but the government is willing to spend so much money on hockey instead,” added Sarah Gildone, a behaviour technician at Pierre de Coubertin.

Montreal teachers common front strike
Montreal unionized public sector workers, like teachers and support staff, strike for 72 hours. Nov. 21, 2023 (CREDIT: Alyssia Rubertucci/CityNews Image)

The Quebec government — both Premier Francois Legault and Finance Minister Eric Girard — have defended their decision despite the backlash.

“Do you hear me now Mr. Legault, do you see me?” said Ana Maria Di Gaetano of the Leonardo Da Vinci Academy and an APPA union delegate. “Telling you that we can’t afford to feed our families. We supported you during emergency daycares, you support us right now. We don’t need the L.A. Kings, we need money, especially during Christmastime.”

Quebec’s latest contract offer was deposed on Oct. 29, it was 10.3 per cent salary increase over five years and a one-time payment of $1,000 to each worker. Unions are demanding a three-year contract with annual increases tied to the inflation rate.

The province says it will appoint a conciliator to help bridge the gap in the stalled contract negotiations, something the common front had requested – but the conciliator’s recommendations won’t be binding.

“I’m hoping it’s going to help,” said Terriacha. “I’m hoping we’re not going to have to go further with the strike, but we never know.”

Labour unrest will increase later this week. Another union representing about 65,000 teachers, the Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignement (FAE) will launch an unlimited general strike on Thursday.

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