One of Quebec's largest public daycare workers' unions is going on strike indefinitely as of Dec. 1 if negotiations with the province do not progress by then.
Members of the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), representing some 11,000 public daycare workers, voted 92.1 per cent in favour of the strike after putting the decision to a vote on Thursday.
"Next Tuesday, if the attitude at the negotiation table has not changed and we are still facing the same wall... we will have no other choice but to call an unlimited general strike for the next day, December 1," said Stéphanie Vachon, childcare lead at the union federation at a news conference on Friday.
The union represents 400 Centres de la petite enfance — commonly referred to as CPEs— 106 of which are in Montreal and Laval combined. It also represents workers in 59 CPEs in the Quebec City region.
The CSN joins another public daycare union, the Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec, affiliated with the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (FIPEQ-CSQ), whose 3,200 members approved a strike mandate on Wednesday by more than 91 per cent.
Negotiations with the province broke off last Friday after days of intense negotiation. All public daycare unions in Quebec had said if no progress was made in negotiations this week, they would push for an unlimited general strike until an agreement is reached with the province.
Quebec offered a significant salary increase for educators, between 20 and 23 per cent.
However, support staff, including those who work in maintenance, administration and kitchens, were only offered about nine per cent and that has been a sticking point.
"By voting massively for the strike and therefore by agreeing to lose days, even weeks of wages, these already underpaid workers have just told the government that they are united and that they are ready to fight until the end to have a fair agreement for all employees," said Vachon.
Rolling, temporary strikes have continued since September as more than 18 months of collective agreement negotiations hit an impasse.
'Money for everyone except for the childcare workers'
Lucie Longchamps, vice-president at the FSSS-CSN, questions why the government won't budge on salary increases for support staff, who represent 15 per cent of all the staff at the CPEs.
"The government proposal would bring the annual payroll of the 11,000 employees unionized to the CSN to $420 million, while the union proposal would bring the same payroll to $426 million," she said.
She called the $6 million total increase in salaries "a negligible gap," pointing to the $2.9 billion dedicated to attracting and retaining workers, announced in Thursday's economic update.
"It is difficult to interpret the government's refusal as anything other than stubbornness," said Longchamps.
"There seems to be money for everyone, except for the childcare workers."
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Quebec said it wouldn't rule out the possibility of a back-to-work order should the strike be approved.
"This is certainly one of the tools that are available," said the president of Quebec's Treasury Board, Sonia LeBel, on Thursday when asked if the province is willing to take legal action against the potential strike.
Legault confident a negotiated solution will be reached
On Friday, Premier François Legault said he doesn't think the legislation will be necessary as he is convinced there will be a negotiated solution with the union before the strike is slated to begin.
"What I understand is that we're very, very close to an agreement with the daycare workers," he said during a news conference.
Legault, however, said the union's demand for equal salaries for support staff "doesn't make sense" and "wouldn't be fair," saying cleaners in daycares shouldn't earn more than cleaners in schools.
"So what we say is, we have to be fair," he said. "The important part for me is that people working as daycare workers that they be happy with the new salary and it looks like we answered the demand they made. So I don't see why we shouldn't be able to find a solution."
LeBel has criticized the unlimited strike mandates, saying the government never intended to offer the same salary increases to all childcare workers.
"We will not be able to offer and we will not offer [pay] increases at the same level as we did for educators, teachers and nurses," she said on Thursday.
She called on the unions representing public daycare workers to be reasonable rather than putting the burden on parents who are now forced to stay home with their kids.
Vachon says daycare workers understand the impact an unlimited strike would have on families, but says the province needs to meet them halfway.
"We still have a lot of parents behind us. And we think the ones that are mad at us for that, they should go to say to the government that [it] needs to move."