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Pontiac school bus drivers strike

Striking members of Teamsters Local 107 in front of the Autobus Lasalle garage in Shawville on day one of their strike.

Brett Thoms
Shawville May 1, 2023
Despite the rain, Pontiac school bus drivers represented by the Teamsters Quebec Local 106 picketed the Shawville offices of Autobus Lasalle at 149 West St on Monday, the first day of their strike action.
Autobus Lasalle services three school boards, including Portages-de-l’Outaouais, Hauts-Bois-de-l’Outaouais and the Western Quebec School board, affecting all public schools in the Pontiac. In total 97 Autobus Lasalle bus drivers have joined the 250 striking teamsters across the Outaouais.
Teamsters Quebec Local 106 members voted to go on strike on April 12 after the failure of the union and Transport Scolaire Sogesco Inc, the company that owns Autobus Lasalle to agree to a collective bargain.
Denis Ouellette, a representative of Local 106, said the strike came about over demands for wage increases for drivers. As of now, bus drivers earn $23 an hour for a 20-hour workweek. The union is now asking for $27 an hour.
“Twenty hours a week at $23 is not enough to make a living,” Ouellette said. “It’s a hard job, it’s 182 days a year on split shifts. Drivers have a big responsibility with all the kids and they are there every day; rain, snow, whatever.”
Ouellette added that there is already a shortage of school bus drivers in Quebec, and therefore wages also needed to be improved in order to retain and attract drivers.
As of rpress time, negotiations to end the strike were not underway.
“They’re either not interested in negotiating the contract anymore and they want us on strike, or there is something we’re missing because we were available to negotiate until yesterday,” Ouellette said.
A statement from Scolaire Sogesco Inc. provide to THE EQUITY said the union’s current demands go well beyond the financial capacity of Autobus Lasalle Inc. due to contractual agreements currently in place.
The statement also noted that in addition to salaries, drivers may be eligible to receive benefits totalling $2,400 per year under the Programme d’aide financière aux conducteurs d’autobus scolaires (PAFCAS), a retention program offered by the Gouvernement du Québec.
“Autobus Lasalle Inc. regrets the current situation and is committed to negotiating an agreement that is mutually beneficial for the company and union members,” the statement reads. “Autobus Lasalle Inc. hopes that any labour action will not negatively affect school children and their families.”
Ouellette disagrees that the company can not afford a wage increase. He said he also regrets the impact the strike is having on families, but that striking is necessary to maintain the service.
“I hope that the parents understand the situation and that they understand that if we don’t do anything to improve working conditions in the long run, there will be a more severe shortage of school bus drivers,” he said.
“People are not getting any younger and if those drivers who are now eligible for retirement will decide to leave, who’s going to be there to replace them? The shortage is just going to get worse. So we need to do something to upgrade those working conditions and make this profession more attractive to new workers.”
Ouellette said the strike will go indefinitely if a collective agreement isn’t reached. He also pledged that school bus drivers will be picketing outside of Autobus Lasalle’s garage on shifts between 7 a.m and 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday until the end of the strike.
Schools across the Pontiac have advised parents of the need for a backup plan to get kids to school. Pontiac High School announced they will provide supervision in the morning starting at 7 a.m. and at the end of the day until 5 p.m for those who need to arrive or be picked up at an irregular time.

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