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Front Commun strike: workers mobilize at picket lines throughout the Pontiac

Front Commun strike: workers mobilize at picket lines throughout the Pontiac

6 November 2023 à 3:34 pm

Picket lines outside schools and health care facilities dotted the Pontiac this morning (November 6), as public sector workers took part in one of Quebec’s largest labour actions in recent history. Members of the Front Commun, a coalition of unions representing more than 400,000 public sector workers across the province, started their strike action as of midnight. In addition to today’s picketing, the Front Commun has already announced an additional three strike days on November 21-23.

At the Pontiac Hospital, members of the Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs de la santé et des services sociaux de l’Outaouais (STTTSSSO-CSN) and L’Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux (APTS) unions, which represent social workers, occupational therapists and other health care specialists, marched around the parking lot.

APTS representative Marsha Préfontaine told CHIP 101.9 that their salary demands are of critical importance for the workers in the Outaouais region, as the higher salaries in Ontario or at private institutions are draining their workforce and contributing to the deterioration of working conditions for those who remain. The APTS represents roughly 2,500 workers throughout the Outaouais.

She said that the latest offer from the government, which would increase base salaries by 10.3% over 5 years, wasn’t enough to keep up with inflation, and over the course of five years it would widen the gap between the pay scales in Ontario, further undermining their recruitment efforts.

The Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de l’Outaouais (SPSO), which represents the region’s nurses, have announced that they will be holding their own strikes on November 8 and 9. Regional health authority CISSSO issued a statement last week reassuring the public that access to emergency services and intensive care will not be affected by the action. It notes however, that there may be delays or modified hours for some services, and advises those with non-urgent blood work to postpone any appointments on November 6, 8 and 9.

Down the street, members of the Western Quebec Teachers’ Association (WQTA), which represents roughly 700 staff in the region’s English schools, picketed on Hwy. 148 and outside of Dr. S.E. McDowell Elementary School in Shawville. Heidi Hall, a nursing instructor at the Pontiac Continuing Education Centre and treasurer with the WQTA, explained that in addition to salary increases, they’re seeking better working conditions when it comes to things like class sizes.

She added that it was great to see so many public sector workers banding together to improve their conditions. She said that just like health care workers, many educators in the Pontiac are enticed by the better salaries across the river in Ontario.

Darren McCready, a teacher with 20 years at Dr. S.E. McDowell and the chair of the WQTA local, said that post-COVID there are a lot more student needs and behavioral issues to be addressed, which has stretched their already thin resources.

McCready added that he’d like to see the government put more money towards helping students with special needs.

In anticipation of the strike action, the Western Quebec School Board opted to cancel all classes and transportation for the day, while the Centre de services scolaire des Hauts-Bois-de-l’Outaouais opted to just cancel morning classes, with opening hours varying by school.

Further up the line, teachers and other workers from the local French schools picketed in large numbers along the highway in Mansfield outside of Bowers restaurant, while workers from the APTS gathered outside the CLSC.

The full interview with Préfontaine is available here.