On August 16, the labour union representing 4,500 Société de transport de Montréal (STM) workers voted in favour of a strike lasting from August 18 to September 16. This is their second strike this year. On May 3, the union voted 98% in favour of a strike mandate from May 7 to May 12. This decision followed months of negotiation between the union and the STM.
Workers have been without a contract since January, and have called for a government mediator to resolve the dispute. During negotiations, the STM demanded more flexibility (read: precarity) when organizing work, by scheduling last-minute shifts and forcing daytime workers to take night shifts. The union has argued that these demands are unreasonable. Union chapter representative Renato Carlone said in a statement, “the management of the STM lacks respect for the 4,500 employees who provide millions of trips for Montrealers. In too many cases, the routes are completely unrealistic. These poorly planned trips stress passengers who take out their frustrations on drivers and [the latter] pay the price for the poor planning thatís creating serious workplace health and safety problems.”
The labour union is criticizing the STM for forcing maintenance employees to work unreasonable mandatory overtime hours, for poor shift scheduling, and for outsourcing tasks to private contractors rather than hiring more employees to handle them internally. Maintenance workers, including cleaning staff, mechanics, and electricians, typically work 60 hours a week. In addition, the union argues that bus drivers are working in increasingly difficult conditions, including construction zones, areas with lowered speed limits, and a greater number of cyclists on the road, but none of these conditions are taken into consideration when planning bus routes. Moreover, the number of buses in operation on the road has declined despite an increasing number of passengers, leading to overcrowding on lines such as the 51, 141, and 18. “We want to be respected for the good work that we do day-to-day,” said union representative Dominique Daigneault. “There’s an answer to their problem, hire more people. They need 300-400 more workers.”
The STM is the third most used rapid transit system in North America, and operates over 1,800 buses on 221 bus lines. For residents of Montreal and students at McGill, the public transportation system is essential to our daily commute and our civic life. Under the marketable pretense of “flexibility,” the STM’s proposals push workers into greater precarity and poorer work conditions. We must support the bus drivers, metro operators and maintenance employees in their struggle against the STM management to ensure the quality of the city’s transit system. STM workers deserve reasonable and safe working conditions, and they deserve our support and respect for providing an essential service to the residents of Montreal.