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Quebec Ferry Workers Denounce Employer’s Refusal to Negotiate

QUEBEC CITY – Unionized ferry workers employed by the Société des traversiers du Québec are considering collective action to pressure their employer to renegotiate a fair contract, more than 15 months after their last collective agreement expired.

The 150 mechanical and navigation officers, members of the United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos, operate ferry services at several crossings along the St. Lawrence River – Sorel/Saint-Ignace-de-Loyola, Quebec City/Lévis, Isle-aux-Coudres/Saint-Joseph-de-la-Rive, Matane/Baie-Comeau/Godbout and Tadoussac/Baie-Sainte-Catherine. The workers’ collective agreement expired April 1, 2020.

“The employer has categorically refused to negotiate since Dec. 15, 2020,” said Steelworkers staff representative Luc Laberge.

“On April 30, the union first asked for conciliation, which led to an exploratory meeting on July 12. At this meeting, however, the employer told us that it did not have a mandate to negotiate monetary issues from the Quebec Treasury Board, and it did not indicate when it will have the mandate to negotiate,” Laberge said.

“Faced with the employer's refusal to resume negotiations, the union will be visiting our members’ workplaces to discuss our next steps. In the meantime, we hope to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible, and that the employer will show a willingness to negotiate,” he added.

The employer’s refusal to negotiate reflects a trend in public-sector bargaining in Quebec, Laberge said.

“If you look at the public-sector negotiations since all collective agreements expire on April 1, 2020, there is no sector that has managed to negotiate an agreement without exercising pressure tactics. In fact, they all took at least a year to settle their contracts. In effect, there is deliberate inaction by the government in negotiations with public-sector workers.”

In the case of the ferry workers, “the Steelworkers union finds the Treasury Board to be totally disrespectful of its workers by ignoring negotiations,” said Bruno Gagnon, president of Steelworkers Local 9599. “The last wage increase they had was on April 1, 2018. Their wages are not competitive in the maritime sector in Quebec and they’re also the poor cousins in the sector in terms of benefits.”

The United Steelworkers/Syndicat des Métallos, affiliated with the Quebec Federation of Labour, is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers in all economic sectors.

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