On the Picket Line

Montreal school bus drivers strike for a pay raise

By John Steele
and Steve Penner
February 26, 2024

“The company wants us to go back to work and submit everything to arbitration. But arbitration won’t give us what we deserve. You have to fight to get what you need, which for us is a 37% wage increase over six years,” Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) bus driver and strike picket line captain Lise Chapleau told two Militant  worker-correspondents Feb. 7. Some 350 drivers have been on strike since Oct. 31.

We met Chapleau on the picket line at the Autobus Transco school bus depot in Pointe Claire on the west end of the island of Montreal.

Transco bosses claim the union demands are “unreasonable and unrealistic.” The workers drive buses for a number of public and private schools in the Montreal region. The strike has affected over 15,000 students and their families.

According to Chapleau, the workers voted by 99.5% to strike with the goal of winning a wage raise to erase the fall in their real income due to inflation.

Sixteen strikers were on the picket line when we visited. Picketing runs on three shifts from 6 a.m. to around 4:30 p.m. on school days.

“Without the union strike pay of $315 a week we would be finished,” said Chapleau. “But we’re in this for the long haul. We have support from many parents who learned about our issues from the leaflet we’ve been distributing.”

“We drivers are well aware that the current strikes in school transport are causing hardship for parents. This definitely isn’t something we wanted to do,” the drivers’ leaflet explains in French and English.

“Many of the workers who do this tough job make less than $25,000 a year. A school bus driver is responsible for the safety of about 50 children, some of them very young.”

Drivers work split shifts, in the morning and evening, and aren’t paid for the down time. They currently make around 18 Canadian dollars ($13.40) an hour driving six hours a day. Strikers told us there is a shortage of school bus drivers as many quit because of the low pay.

In 2022 the Quebec government increased the subsidy given to bus company bosses, supposedly so they could increase wages. Transco received a 25% increase in their subsidy.

But instead of raising wages, the bus companies “took advantage of the situation to maximize their profits,” says the union leaflet.

Strikers told us that Transco bosses used their increased subsidy to buy out another company.