Strike negotiations at standstill
There seems to be no end in sight for the region’s ongoing school bus strike.
In a conciliation meeting with a provincially-appointed mediator May 23, all three companies involved in the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) bus strike refused to provide any new offers to drivers, according to Teamsters Local 106 union rep Denis Ouellette.
Ouellette said that both camps requested the meeting with Quebec’s Minister of Labour Jean Boulet, but that bus companies LaSalle, Bigras and Campeau Transport showed up at the meeting with nothing to add to the bargaining table.
“The conciliator was not very happy about that,” he said.
“For her to do her job, she needs both parties to be ready to negotiate and the employer said that it had nothing new to offer to the drivers.”
Ouellette went on to state that the moderator will be following up with a report to the Minister of Labour, in which he expects that she will have to write that both parties agreed to the conciliation mediation process, but the employer was not ready to negotiate.
For bus drivers like Dominic Laplante, this update on the negotiation process is nothing short of frustrating. He has been keeping up with the negotiations and has been on the picket line with his fellow drivers since the start of the strike.
“We’re here, we’re trying to do our best,” said Laplante. “People are pretty tired of this, it’s been a month now.”
Ouellette also expressed being dissatisfied by the progress of the strike.
“The drivers were expecting a result and at least some movement in the negotiations, but we are at the same place we were in April,” he said, referring to negotiations that broke down before the first official strike day.
Laplante voiced that the bus drivers involved in this strike are essentially now stuck waiting in the middle of a much larger conflict.
“There’s a game being played, but it’s being played somewhere else,” he said, referencing the fact that the dispute has reached the level of the provincial government with the Minister of Labour involved.
Laplante went on to say that he would be surprised if the strike went on until the end of the school year, as it is costing the companies over $36,000 a week, and at this point, they risk losing many of their drivers.
The WQSB bus drivers are asking for inflation protection and a raise in salary — more than the five per cent increase that was initially offered at the start of May.
In a statement released on May 19, Autobus LaSalle and Bigras Transport wrote that: “The union demands go far beyond the company’s financial capacity because of the contractual agreements in effect, which greatly limit their maneuvering room.”
Reimbursement for parents
For parents driving their children to school every day as a result of this strike, the WQSB is offering travel plan reimbursement.
The reimbursement program was applicable as of May 1, and will continue until the end of the strike.
The rates are as follows: Up to 13.9 kilometres equates to $10 compensation per day, and 14 kilometres equates to $20 per day. The application form should be accessible through a mass communication sent to parents from the school board on May 26.