'Our members have had enough': Quebec school staff vote for option to strike

An empty classroom is seen in this undated file photo. (Source: iStock, DONGSEON_KIM)

Quebec school staff say they are being “ignored” by the province, prompting their unions to adopt five-day strike mandates to pressure the government amid negotiations, as workers approach a full year without a renewed collective agreement.

Weeks ago, teachers from across Quebec voted in favour of their own five-day strikes. Now, a major school support staff union has done the same.

“Our members have had enough,” said Pierrick Choiniere-Lapointe, executive director of Syndicat des employées et employés professionnels-les et de bureau (SEPB), who’s members voted 90 per cent in favour of going on strike.

A strike mandate allows unions to announce a strike sometime in the future. Just when that will happen, if ever, is yet to be decided. 

Participating school boards and service centres include New Frontiers, Riverside, Sir Wilfred Laurier, Marie-Victorin, and Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

SEPB represents school support workers, such as secretaries, HR technicians, as well as daycare educators.

WHAT ARE THEY ASKING FOR?

Choiniere-Lapointe said unions are trying to negotiate longer working hours for staff, who he said work in a constant state of “precarity.”

“The average working hours for our people is 20 hours. It's true that we have some people that working 35 or 40 hours per week, but some people only work eight hours.”

Quebec’s education ministry did not immediately respond to CTV News’s request for comment.

WHY A STRIKE?

Choiniere-Lapointe says unions began negotiations with the province in January 2020. Now, a year later, negotiations are still ongoing, according to the union. He says it’s time to settle on new collective agreement, after the one from last year expired in March 2020.

“This government disrespects its school support employees … who have been on the front lines since the start of the pandemic,” he said.

SEPB is keeping its cards close to its chest when it comes to a schedule, but Choiniere-Lapointe said it’s possible they may coincide with an upcoming anniversary.

Choiniere-Lapointe told CTV News March 31 will mark one year since the unions’ collective agreement expired in 2020.

But, he says, it’s still too early to give a concrete timeline for the strikes.

It also remains unclear if the strikes will be coordinated with the teachers’ unions, who also voted for a five-day mandate earlier in February.

“We won't reveal the details of our strategy, but anything is possible,” said the group’s National Council for School Support president Marie-Claude Ethier.

“First of all, we want the government to understand that we want to be heard at the negotiating tables. If it continues to ignore us, we will exercise our strike mandate.”

Ethier says a solo effort is not off the table.

“We will assess the situation and make the best strategic choices,” she said.

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