Laval: School strike looms—Oct. 28?

SWLSB extracurricular activities spared

By Robert Frank

Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board (SWLSB) teachers have voted to give their union a strike mandate. Last week 56 percent of Laurier Teachers Union (LTU) members cast ballots at meetings in Laval, Sept. 21, and in St. Jérôme, Sept. 22.

“In total, 89 percent of our membership present voted for the strike,” reported LTU president Sébastien Joly.

Joly told The Suburban that deteriorating contract negotiations have motivated teachers to walk off the job.

“The teachers are certainly quite upset,” he said in an interview. “In a nutshell, the government is proposing to impose

additional cutbacks on resources. We’re almost back to step one [in the labour negotiations] last January.”

LTU is working in lockstep with the province’s other teachers and public service unions.

“We are negotiating along with the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) which represents some 8,500 English teachers in Quebec as well as the federation representing nearly 60,000 French teachers,” Joly explained. “We’re going with a common front that includes three other big union federations who represent public sector employees.”

The common front strike vote will close down the entire education sector, including CEGEPs, QPAT president Richard Goldfinch told The Suburban.

“All 10 locals have voted by majorities of 70-90 percent for up to six-to-eight days of strike action,” he said in an interview. “Those are some of the strongest strike mandates that we’ve seen in quite a long time. Teachers are really, really angry and are willing to let the government know it.”

“Teachers want more support in the classroom, smaller classes and [continued] support for special needs students that the government wants to remove,” Goldfinch explained. “We’re perplexed by the government’s latest demands. We don’t understand why they’ve gone back to where they started.”

The dispute is also about money. The starting salaries a Quebec teacher is about $42,000 and rises to about $78,000 within 17 years. The unions say that Quebec teachers are the lowest-paid in the country. However, direct comparisons can be difficult because salaries can vary widely by region in other provinces like Ontario.

“[The government] wants to add three hours to our weekly schedule and tell us what to do with all 35 hours,” Goldfinch

complained. “To add insult to injury, they have not offered us any real salary increase: Just three percent over five years. We’re negotiating together with the common front, which is asking for 13.5 percent over three years.”

“We’re going to see fewer and fewer people signing up to become teachers, because they won’t have a very good paying job,” he warned.

Rotating walkouts pending

Goldfinch expects the strike to commence sometime after the Oct. 19 federal election, with Oct. 28 as a possible date for the first walkoff, the head of another teachers’ union told The Suburban.

“The strike situation seems to be gelling in terms of dividing the province into four regions,” Pearson Teachers Union president John Donnelly said in an interview “In the first go round, each region will stage a one-day strike with nurses, teachers and public servants [there] all going out.”

“At that point we’ll assess the lay of the land and then another round that might be two days or perhaps go for a province-wide strike,” he continued. “We have to give parents seven days notice.”

Unlike most other school boards, SWLSB students will be spared a blanket boycott of extracurricular activities (ECAs).

“We’re the only union that provides for ECAs in its collective agreement,” LTU president Joly explained. “Teachers get ECA time credited to them as part of their 32-hour weekly workload.”

School union locals are still free to pull the plug collectively on the fun after-school activities, though, he added.

“There was certainly no direction from the common front of unions to ban ECAs,” Joly said. “It’s an individual or school choice, basically. One of our schools held a vote to ban ECAs, but it was rejected. Individual teachers might also decide not to participate in ECAs until negotiations are complete.”

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