Blue-collar workers for the City of Montreal staged a 24-hour strike Monday to demand a new collective agreement with the municipality. Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 301 have not seen their wages rise in over two years, and have been working without a contract since August of 2007. As bins of garbage and recycling were left uncollected across the city, hundreds of workers staged a protest at Old Montreal’s Place Jacques Cartier.
Marc Ranger, the union’s chief negotiator, said that the main purpose of the protest was to bring some publicity to the union’s struggle with the City.
“Since the last collective agreement in 2004, there have been no [increases in] wages and we’ve had big setbacks in the working conditions, so we need to make our voices heard,” Ranger said. “Since 2004, the average wage has declined by 15 per cent because of inflation.”
Local 301 member Denis Tremblay said that he believes that alerting the Montreal electorate to the union’s situation will increase the pressure on the city to sign a contract.
“I’ve worked for the City of Montreal for five years and my hours are still not guaranteed. After five years I still work only about five months a year,” he said. “Our wages haven’t gone up in five years, but the price of everything has gone up— everything except for salaries. We’re hoping for the best and I just hope that people will understand that we are doing this for them — or the population in general.”
Ranger stated that one of the main objectives of the strike was to protest the provision of municipal services by the private sector. Temporary workers’ jobs have been cut substantially in recent years, as the City has expanded its reliance on subcontracting.
“It’s obvious that [the mayor’s office] has made a choice: that services to the citizens of Montreal more and more are going to be done by subcontractors,” Ranger said. He added that municipal scandals, such as last year’s $355-million contract for water meters to a company accused by Revenue Canada of tax fraud, is symptomatic of the private provision of municipal services.
“You just have to look at the water meters contract; we could have done most of the job with blue-collars, so for us, enough is enough,” Ranger said.
Montreal’s Chief of the Department of Labour Relations, Regis Boudreau, stated that the City is willing to accede to the union’s demand for a three per cent pay raise, provided it is accompanied by a slight increase in productivity. However, main obstacle to reaching an agreement with the union.
“The union is asking that all kinds of blue-collar work be done with their employees, and we want, in certain circumstances, to contract it out,” Boudreau said.
Bourdreau added that the City also hopes to reach a settlement with the union, which would maintain a quota of union members on the municipal payroll.
“There is absolutely no plan for the City of Montreal to subcontract everything,” he said.
But Ranger expressed anxiety about the City’s long-term policy on public workers.
“It’s been 20 years since we’ve seen so [few] employees doing the job. More and more is being done by subcontractors,” he said.
Ranger also stated that in spite of the union’s ongoing conflict with the current mayor, Gérald Tremblay, it has chosen not to endorse a specific candidate in the upcoming municipal election.