On the Picket Line

Cemetery workers strike over staff cuts, wage raises

By Steve Penner
February 27, 2023

MONTREAL — Some 40 outside and office workers on strike at Montreal’s Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery held a joint action at the office of the Catholic Archbishop of Montreal here Jan. 26. The Notre Dame Parish runs the cemetery.

Patrick Chartrand, a groundskeeper and president of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery Workers’ Union — the outside workers — told the Militant  the two unions with a total of about 120 members, both affiliates of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, have formed a common front for negotiations. 

“The bosses always try to divide us,” Chartrand said. “However their attacks have brought us closer together.”

The office workers, whose contract ran out five years ago, have been on strike since Sept. 20. They were joined by the outside workers, who walked out Jan. 12. The cemetery is only offering a 14% wage raise over five years, with no increase for the past four years. Chartrand said that comes to 14% over nine years, less than 2% a year. With inflation at 6.3%, the “raise” is a wage cut. 

“The labor movement is at a turning point,” Chartrand said. “At the same time as prices are going up the bosses are attacking working people’s rights. We have to fight back.” 

Eric Dufault, president of the Office Employees’ Union, said the bosses have been cutting their workforce and services since 2019. The total number of workers is half what it was five years ago.

“There aren’t enough workers to properly take care of the grounds and the grave plots” that cover 343 acres, he said. “The cemetery looks abandoned” with uncut grass, weeds and garbage.

Last year the cemetery cut 23 workers, and the union has been fighting to have them rehired. “We’re fighting not only on behalf of the workers but also for the families,” Dufault said.

Maurizio Duganiero, an outside worker for 15 years, said, “They want to cut back even more. It will mean more work, more burnout, more injuries. Some days we have to do two or three jobs.”