Montreal Transit Maintenance Workers Fight for Working Conditions and Quality of Life

Gleason Frenette —

The Montreal Transit Union (STM-CSN) has 2,450 members, who perform all the trades, including electricians, mechanics, plumbers, welders, etc. We have about 2,000 tradespeople in the union and the other members are maintenance workers.

In early 2017, the employer, the Montreal Transit Corporation (STM), came to us with a demand for hundreds of concessions, particularly for schedule changes that affect the working conditions and quality of life of our workers. However, that is precisely what we want to improve, which is called work-family balance. We have already had over 100 meetings with our employer and we have not even begun discussing the issue of wages.

The STM wants more employees to work weekends, and more evening and night shifts in general. Some employees would be moved to these new schedules, however most of them would be new employees. They would also work non-standard schedules, such as three days of work, then three days off, followed by four days of work. Not only would these atypical schedules be applied to new hires, the employer is focusing on them to try to develop a mentality that « it does not affect you, only the new hires. » We are not the sort to accept orphan clauses.

The employer calls this flexibility, but in fact it is a rollback of our working conditions and the quality of life of our members. Our employees do a lot of overtime, over 500,000 hours per year. I believe that the employer already has flexibility. Many of our employees are already working weekend shifts, night shifts — shifts that overlap each other to such an extent that it results in overtime. The STM wants this so-called flexibility while avoiding overtime.

The mentality is changing amongst the workers, and in particular we see this with the new generation. A lot more attention is being paid to quality of life, the opportunity to spend time with our families. There are ways to reduce overtime, which would also benefit our exhausted members who face the increased danger of accidents. This can be done by hiring workers, but this should not be done by upsetting our working conditions and making it impossible to have a good quality of living.

The current negotiation is regulated by Bill 24, which was adopted by the Liberal government in 2016. This law is the framework for all negotiations in the municipal sector and the government has included us in this. The law requires that we sign contracts for a minimum of five years. The duration of the negotiation is controlled.

We are now negotiating with the assistance of a mediator for a period of 60 days. A 60-day extension period is provided by law if the mediator or the parties propose it. If at the end of the mediation period the mediator declares that the negotiations did not produce any results, a trustee appointed by the government takes over. The trustee looks at the issues that were not settled at the bargaining table, and can report to the government requesting a decree of our working conditions that have not been agreed upon. The mediator has assured us that if the talks continue, he will extend the mediation another 60 days.

We are confident that with an extension, we will be able to settle negotiations. Our working conditions must be negotiated, not decreed.

Gleason Frenette is the President of the Montreal Transit Union.