One of Quebec's public daycare worker unions is going on strike indefinitely, putting pressure on the province as more than 18 months of collective agreement negotiations hits an impasse.
The strike mandate was approved by more than 91 per cent of members of the Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec, affiliated with the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (FIPEQ-CSQ).
Simultaneous general assemblies were held Wednesday in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval, Boucherville, Rouyn-Noranda and Sherbrooke.
About half of early childhood care workers are unionized in Quebec. The FIPEQ-CSQ is only one of those unions, with about 3,200 members eligible to vote.
FIPEQ-CSQ members had already approved a temporary strike mandate, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday — and it was not the only union on strike this week.
For the first time ever, three daycare unions walked out of work all at once on Tuesday.
In daycares where workers are represented by the CSN-affiliated Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux (FSSS-CSN), thousands will remain on strike until Thursday.
As for the Quebec Service Employees Union (SQEES), affiliated with the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec (FTQ), they approved a three-day strike, not returning to the job until Friday.
Government willing to boost pay
On Monday, the government said it was willing to pay 20 per cent more to educators who work 32-36 hours a week. The pay increase jumps to 23 per cent if they agree to work 40 hours a week, bringing their hourly pay to more than $30.
But the government is proposing maximum increases of 9.3 per cent for support staff — those who work in maintenance, administration and kitchens.
Right now, educators in Quebec start at $19 an hour and can earn up to an hourly maximum of $25.18.
Before Wednesday's vote, Valérie Grenon, head of the FIPEQ, said obtaining a strong strike mandate is the only way to get Quebec to improve its offers.
"Without an indefinite general strike mandate, the government will not budge. We are facing a wall at the negotiation table," said Grenon.
Rolling strikes since September
Public daycare union members voted in September to start rolling strikes.
"The government stubbornly refuses to offer a salary catch-up for all employees, which we have been demanding from the very start of the negotiations," said Lucie Longchamps, vice-president at the FSSS-CSN, in a recent statement.
The president of Quebec's Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel, has said negotiations with the FIPEQ and other unions representing childcare workers are continuing.
She has denounced the vote on a indefinite strike mandate, saying her government never intended to offer the same salary increases to all childcare workers.
LeBel is also Quebec's minister responsible for government administration
"We will not be able to offer the same raise — we do not have the capacity to offer the same increase — in all sectors of the childcare centres," she said.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume Thursday.
Grenon said the ball is in the employer's court, and she encourages government officials to come to the meeting in good faith if they want to avoid the launch of an indefinite general strike.
"My negotiating team has a mandate to settle. On the other hand, it takes two to tango," she said on Wednesday.
"So the government will have to come up with something other than [what it proposed] last Friday so that we can settle tomorrow."