The union representing the Cree School Board workers wants local employees to have the same benefits as staff recruited from the south to work in schools on Cree territory.
Negotiations between the Cree School Board (CSB) and the Centre des syndicats du Québec, the union representing CSB workers, have been going on for two years.
CSB workers have been without a contract since 2020.
Their main gripe is that teachers recruited from the South have more benefits baked into their contract than local (mostly Cree) employees.
Joel Tapiatic, a high school Cree culture teacher and Paul Washipabano, a computer technician for an elementary school walked out of their jobs on May 27 in Chisasibi, in northwestern Quebec to show their frustration.
“There’s a big gap from the local hired and the ones that are hired away from town, and there’s a big difference in benefits. And that’s the negotiations that have been going on here,” said Tapiatic.
“What we’re fighting for is for equity with the people that are hired from out of town that come into our communities, so we’re really fighting for the locally hired people to have the same advantages as the ones that come in from the south,” said Washipabano.
Benefits for teachers moving from 50 km outside the region include paid outings and a lodging allowance — and other, subtler advantages.
“For instance, for parking, they shovel their pathways, but as for the local, they’re not shoveled. [We’re] treated different,” said Tapiatic.
The majority of the teachers in the Cree School Board are not Cree, and Washipabano said locals should be encouraged to work in schools.
“The Cree School Board is being very stubborn. I wish they would invest into their own people, into their own nation, because this would benefit a lot of local people, said Washipabano. “That would be investing in the Cree Nation.”
Katavik Ilisarniliriniq, the school board for the Nunavik region in northern Quebec, recently granted local teachers and support staff similar benefits as those recruited from the south after union negotiations.
Meanwhile, CSB workers have seen their real salaries shrink as inflation compounds the already high cost of living up north.
“We haven’t had a salary raise for the last two years,” said Washipabano. “We’re very patient, we’re very hardworking, but it’s coming to the point where it’s getting, I don’t want to say ridiculous, but something’s got to move.”
Centre des syndicats du Québec organized demonstrations on May 27 in solidarity with CSB workers in several locations across Quebec. Union president Éric Gingras said working with the CSB has been difficult.
“The funds are there, the money is there. Now it takes a willingness. And that willingness, it seems that we’re forgetting that in a negotiation, it’s to benefit both parties, not just one party, not just the school board that wants to impose its point of view,” said Gingras in French.
“The message we’re sending, it’s that there aren’t multiple classes of employees. Public sector employees in the education network should benefit from the same advantages, and we’re working hard on that. We also want regardless of the job category, whether you’re a teacher, a professional, support staff, that you can benefit from good working conditions.”
Tapiatic says the next strike will last days if an agreement isn’t reached soon, and he’ll miss his work if it does.
“I’ve always been saying this, my job as a Cree culture teacher is not a job for me, it’s more like a hobby, that’s what I think of,” said Tapiatic.
“We’re already happy to go to work, we love our work, the school is the heart of every community,” said Washipabano.
The Cree School Board declined an interview request from APTN News.