Montreal cemetery workers fight union-busting attack

By François Bradette
May 29, 2023

MONTREAL — After many months on strike, 117 office, operations and maintenance workers, members of two locals of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), are taking on a union-busting drive by the bosses at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery here. At 343 acres, the cemetery is the largest in Canada.

Militant worker-correspondents were warmly welcomed on the picket line at the main entrance May 11. We brought solidarity as members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union.

CSN banners and stickers covered the gates along with posters in French and English declaring: “Cemetery abandoned. We deserve better.” This referred to both the strikers and family members who have been prevented from visiting the graves of their loved ones by management’s decision to close the cemetery to visitors, hoping to turn their anger and frustration against the union.

The strikers said the main issues are wages and staff cuts. The administration of the Notre Dame Parish of the Catholic Church, which runs the cemetery, has refused to negotiate and there have been no face-to-face discussions since the end of January.

The 17 office workers who walked out Sept. 20 have not had a contract since December 2015, and the 100 outside workers who struck Jan. 12, since 2018.

In face of persistent inflation the bosses have offered what amounts to a wage cut — 14% over five years. Since they haven’t had a wage increase for four years, the proposed increase really amounts to less than 2% a year.

Strikers said the cemetery bosses are out to bust the union, and Administrative Council President Miguel Castellanos had been brought in to do the job.

“We are at a dead end,” Eric Dufault, president of the office workers, told the Militant by phone May 13. “We’re standing together with the outside workers and we’ve put our demands together.”

After an April ice storm left trees damaged, the bosses demanded strikers come back to work temporarily to clean up the mess. “If the employer says the situation is urgent, let them come back to the bargaining table and then we can settle it,” the union responded.

A headline in the May 10 Montreal Gazette said, “With bodies piling up pressure mounts to end Montreal cemetery strike.” As of mid-March, 125 bodies were in freezers awaiting burial.

Under pressure, the administration opened the cemetery for graveside visits for May 14, Mother’s Day.

A government conciliator has been assigned to talk to the two parties. If that results in a contract proposal that is positive, the union says it will be put to a vote.

The strikers deserve support! The picket line is up from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.