MONTREAL — A school bus driver strike slated for mid-May threatens to impact service for nearly 110,000 students across Quebec.
The School Transportation Sector (STS) of the Federation of Public Service Employees announced on May 1 that 2,170 school bus drivers from 44 unions in the federation will go on strike on May 15. The action is expected to affect routes for 32 school boards throughout Quebec.
Stephen Gauley, president of the STS, said in a statement that the unions voted to approve a six-day strike. Their goal, he said, is to get the Quebec government to pass a supplementary budget allocation dedicated to improving their working conditions.
Gauley noted that a walkout is also anticipated to take place during the week of May 28 “if nothing is settled by then.”
The province-wide strike plans come on the heels of a local walkout in April that disrupted transportation service for the Lester B. Pearson School Board in Dorval and the Trois-Lacs School Board in Vaudreuil-Dorion.
CBC News reported that some 4,000 students who live west of Montreal and in the West Island had to find another way to get to school during that strike, which began on April 23. The school bus drivers were calling for their employer, Lucien Bissonnette Inc., to increase their pay, according to the news source.
On April 25, the Lester B. Pearson School Board announced on Facebook that an agreement had been reached, ending the local bus strike. Routes resumed their normal schedules the following morning.
According to the Federation of Public Service Employees, school bus workers in Quebec earn an average rate of CA$17.86 (US$13.86) per hour, for an average annual income of CA$19,288 (US$14,973). The federation added that some pupil transporters make CA$12.07 (US$9.37) per hour, which is close to the minimum wage, with no other benefits.
On April 17, union federation officials met with Quebec’s minister of education, Sébastien Proulx, to discuss funding for higher school bus driver pay, but the issue remained unresolved as of press time. In announcing plans for the strike to start May 15, union leaders pointed out that a labor shortage in pupil transportation has led to problems like school bus delays and cancellations.
“The poor working conditions that have prevailed for too long in this sector are currently causing serious problems in attracting and retaining drivers of school vehicles,” said Jacques Létourneau, president of the Confederation of National Trade Unions. “We therefore very much hope that the government will solve this problem once and for all in order to guarantee funding that will ensure the continuity of this important public service on which hundreds of thousands of parents count every day of school.”