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School Bus Strike continues

Two Autobus Lasalle drivers, Jaques Masseau and Dominique Laporte being interviewed by CBC Radio Canada’s Fionna Collienne during a teamster rally on Tuesday.

The Pontiac-wide school bus driver strike, represented by Teamster Local 106, against Sogesco, the company that owns Autobus Lasalle, continues as frustration among parents mounts.
Last Thursday, the Ministry of Labour reached out to the union’s representatives to gauge their interest in conciliation with Sogesco, according to Denis Ouellette, a representative of Teamsters Local 106.
Conciliation is the process of intervention in a collective bargaining process by a neutral third party. In this case, the third party would be the representative of the Ministry of Labour.
“I said to the conciliator that I’m willing to go but first I want you to check with the employer to see if they are willing to come back to the bargaining table, and if so, if they have something new to put on the table,” said Ouellette. “Because I just don’t want to go there, drink a coffee and hear from the employer that he has nothing else to tell me.”
THE EQUITY reached out to Sogesco to ask if they were open to the conciliation process through the Ministry of Labour, however, their representatives did not respond.
This recent move to end the strike came after a series of developments that started off with a controversy over whether striking employees were laid off by Sogesco. On Tuesday striking drivers posted on social media that they had received a tax document that they typically receive at the end of the school year, which many interpreted as a termination of employment. This caused a flurry of activity on social media, which included a Municipality of Shawville post on Facebook that urged parents to contact Sogesco to pressure them to negotiate with the union.
However, according to Ouellette, the notice sent to the striking workers did not affect their employment status. Ouellette explained that while in the union’s view Sogesco wasn’t required to send the notice, it was still legal for them to do so.
“Even if the employer is producing that document, it changes nothing in the process of the strike and to the drivers’ lien d’emploi [employment relationship],” said Ouellette.
Sogesco, through the public relations company MFLRP, released a statement explaining the documents, stating:
“Unionized school bus drivers who are on strike received a record of employment, which is the employer’s obligation under the Employment Insurance Act. Employers are required to issue a record of employment (ROE) to each employee who receives insurable earnings, and who ceases to work and therefore has a break in receiving earnings. The employer must complete the ROE even if the employee does not intend to claim EI benefits. When an employee has had or is anticipated to have seven consecutive calendar days with no work and no insurable earnings from the employer, an interruption of earnings occurs. This situation is called the seven-day rule. The employer must provide the reasons for issuing the record of employment in Box 16. When the employee is on strike or locked out, the employer must indicate Code B - strike or lockout.”
Ouellette, on the matter of the layoff, added that the move understandably caused concern among the drivers and added “fuel to the fire” in regard to the dispute.
The controversy was followed by a rally in Fort-Coulonge outside of Pavillon Poupore de l’École primaire des Petits-Ponts on May 10, where MRC Pontiac Warden Jane Toller came out to hear their concerns.
This was followed by a pessimistic letter from Western Quebec School Board sent a letter to parents on May 12 informing them little progress has been made between the Teamsters Local 106 and Sogesco, despite the school board trying to intervene in negotiations.
“We have taken every opportunity to remind all parties that reliable, safe and timely transportation services is an important factor in the success of our students. Despite our interventions, and to our disappointment, there seems to be very limited progress, if any, at the negotiations table,” the WSQB letter read. “Unfortunately, with the latest information we have, it seems very unlikely that the transportation companies will come to an agreement with their drivers in the near future.”
The WSQB letter claimed that the school board had informed the transportation companies that they “will enforce clauses in our signed service contracts that allow us to impose financial penalties for transportation services not rendered to our students.”
Ouellette agrees with the assessment that the strike seems a long way off from being resolved, saying the union is ready to push the strike into next September if necessary.
When asked what about the prospects of a back-to-work-order or another imposed solution from the government, Ouellette said that while it was a possibility, as of now it seems unlikely.
“When the government imposed that kind of process, it’s usually when there is a big economic impact on the society”, Ouellette said. “I think now the only inconvenience is to the students and the parents. So for now, the government doesn’t seem to be doing a lot.”
Ouellette also reiterated the lack of communication and refusal to negotiate on the part of Sogesco.
“My fear is that if that conflict lasts, we will lose some drivers. Some drivers will just say, ‘you know what, I’m going to go and find a job somewhere else. And those drivers who are eligible to retire, maybe they will say ‘Maybe this is a sign so I will just retire and enjoy the rest of my life’. Then there will be an even greater shortage of school bus drivers, so we will have nothing,” concluded Ouellette.

Brett Thoms
Pontiac May 15, 2023

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