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Unions reach tentative deal: Members to vote in the coming weeks

by Sophie Kuijper Dickson
Quebec
Jan. 7 2024
Unions representing public service workers in Quebec have reached agreements in principle with the province following weeks of rotating strikes from workers in November and December.
On Sunday the Common Front coalition of unions, which represents 420,000 public sector workers including Pontiac teachers and education workers in both English and French school boards and CISSSO healthcare workers, announced it had reached a tentative deal at the end of last month, and will be recommending the deal to the members of its unions.
The deal, if agreed upon by union members, will bring a salary increase of 17.4 per cent over five years. A six per cent raise retroactive to Apr. 1, 2023 will be given for the first year if the deal is accepted.
The last offer from the government in Dec. 2023 was 12.7 per cent over five years.
In a press release, the Common Front said this will be the largest annual pay increase achieved in decades.
Darren McCready knows this firsthand. He teaches Grade 5 at Dr. S. E. McDowell Elementary School. He’s also the chairperson for the Western Quebec Teachers Association, one of two unions representing teachers in the region.
“In my 20 years of teaching, I’ve never seen anything above maybe maxim,um 2.5 per cent annually, and in most cases it was only 1.5 per cent,” he said, regarding the proposed 3.5 per cent annual salary increase.
“I know right now there’s some teachers that aren’t happy with it because they’re comparing themselves to what the police got,” he said, referring to the 21 per cent salary increase the province offered provincial police in September.

“But initially we started off at 10 per cent over five years. To go up to 17.4 per cent is pretty good,” McCready said.
“I believe, especially if it’s already being recommended, that it will be accepted, because realistically, how much higher can our wages go if we go on for an unlimited strike,” he said.
Aside from salary increases, McCready will also be watching for what the agreement offers in changes to class composition.
“A lot of classes have a high number of IEPs (individual education plans) and [the province] needs to take account for that because no longer can a teacher do small group instruction when 13 students require small group instruction.”
The tentative deal does also include improvements to vacation eligibility, retirement plans, and health insurance coverage. Any details regarding class composition were not yet released at the time of publication.
Phil Holmes teaches history and runs the theatre department and the girls’ rugby program at Pontiac High School.
He expressed great relief an agreement had been reached.
“With all of the disruptions over the past five years, the strike this year has been really tough on the teachers and on the students,” Holmes said.
“I’m really happy that there is forward movement. I could not be happier knowing that I get to go back to school and it’s looking like we’ll be teaching normally again.”
“I’ll tell you one thing. All the teachers you talk to out on strike, every one of them would rather be in the classroom,” Holmes added.
Union members will be reviewing the details of the tentative deal and voting at general assemblies between Jan. 15 and Feb. 19.
The return to class
Separate strikes caused students to miss weeks of school in the month before the winter break.
The Common Front series of strikes closed schools for 11 days, while the unlimited strike action of the Fédération Autonome de l’Enseignement (FAE) paused classes for 22 days.
McCready said the impact of the strike on the return to school at McDowell after the holidays will be minimal, explaining the teachers at McDowell used the week leading up to the holidays as catch up time, which would otherwise be filled with Christmas activities.
“The one program where there will be a bit of catch up will be math, because math you can’t just leave for kids to do on their own. You have to be there for them, especially when they’re learning new concepts,” McCready said.
He said he’s heard from teachers with the FAE union that going back to school this week will be akin to restarting the school year.
At Pontiac High School, Holmes said he has heard teachers raise concerns about how the disruptions might affect students’ ability to pass ministry exams, mandatory this year for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, but said he feels recovering the school year is still possible.
For his part, Holmes is looking forward to returning to rehearsals for this year’s theatrical production of In the Heights, a musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, also known for his musical Hamilton.
“The kids have really worked hard because there’s been less rehearsal time, so they’ve got their stuff learned. It’s an amazing group,” Holmes said, noting that the production may have to be pushed back from April to May.
The province is set to release a plan to school boards on Tuesday of this week to guide teachers and students in catching up on missed class time.
On Monday evening, director general of the Western Quebec School Board George Singfield sent an email to parents with an update.
“As a school board, we will be tasked with formulating a plan of action based on the parameters we receive tomorrow,” the email read. “This plan will be shared with students and parents the week of January 27th (as per Ministry directives).”