Lifeguards strike for better pay

Employees of Saint-Roch pool strike for a higher salary and better working conditions

At the eastern end of Ball street on a cold Saturday, lifeguards and labour union representatives from Parc-Extension’s Saint-Roch municipal pool gathered to strike for a better salary and improved working conditions.
On Mar. 6, approximately two dozen people carried placards and spinning noisemakers in front of the pool to voice their discontent towards their employer and the stalled negotiations.
Minimum wage
Represented by their labour union Le syndicat des travailleuses et des travailleurs des Centres aquatiques du Québec (STTCAQ) affiliated with the CSN, lifeguards are demanding a raise in their salary, from the current $13.10/h to $17/h. This is in addition to an improvement of their employee benefits and for their employer to return to negotiating table.
The lifeguard’s union has been in negotiations with the employer SODEM, a private company contracted by the city to manage the pool, for approximately two years now. Since, SODEM has agreed to increase salaries by 45 cents to $13.55/h, mirroring the mandatory minimum wage increase to $13.50/h, set for May.
This is lower than the wages offered in many parts of Greater Montreal, like that of $18.59/h in Longueuil and $20.36/h in Boucherville, according to a statement by STTCAQ.
“We want the employer to hear us”
Sophianne Leclair is a lifeguard at the affiliated Lasalle pool and a union representative currently involved in negotiations for Saint-Roch pool. “Today we are doing a strike for our conditions, which are horrible,” she said, adding that “we want the employer to hear us.”
“Right now we have the strict minimum,” said Leclair, underlining that lifeguards are paid minimum wage and not offered satisfactory conditions. “They don’t give us breaks and don’t give us equipment,” she said.
“We want to acknowledge that lifeguards are qualified, even if we’re young we’re responsible for the lives of people and [that] should be recognized,” said Leclair.
“We also want the employer to go back to the table and give us a better proposition,” added Leclair, pointing to how SODEM had left negotiations and not returned since Feb. 25.
“We want the city to put pressure on SODEM and tell them to get this right, make it stop; there are citizens that want a service and want good service, and that can only be achieved with a good salary and good conditions for lifeguards,” said Leclair.
City Response
So far, the city has not voiced its position on the labour dispute. According to city councillor Mary Deros, she would want to see a feasibility study before taking a stance on a contract given by the city.
“At this point, I don’t know if the city can get involved because we give them the funds that they require to manage the pools,” she said, adding “I don’t know if legally we have anything to say about what they pay their employees.”
Deros compared the situation to other contracts the city gives out. “It’s like giving a contract for snow clearing,” she said, specifying that “so long as they clear the snow according to our requests, we don’t get involved in their day-to-day operations.”
When asked whether she supported the lifeguard’s demands, Deros said that she would have to know how much it costs to run the pool itself before being able to comment. “I would have to evaluate everything together before I’m able to give an answer,” said Deros.
“The increase would have to come from somewhere,” she said, also adding that “knowing that Parc-Ex is not a rich district, I don’t want to pass on the higher cost of running the place to the users.”
Pool still open
Although there was an active strike, the pool had remained open to the public. “We understand that it’s the week off for a lot of people, but they can still go inside,” said Leclair.
As she was walking out of the building with her three children, Chialun Wu, a pool user, weighed-in on the matter. “I think if they ask for more, in a reasonable range, we should get them better wages,” she said.
She nonetheless added that regardless of their pay, it was the lifeguard’s duty to do their work properly. “Doing your job good is your own responsibility, and getting better pay is a different aspect.”
“It’s really important for adults, or elderly or kids, so I think they deserve it,” Wu said of the lifeguard’s demands.
Court battles
Since lifeguards voted to strike on Feb. 22, SODEM decided to leave the negotiations and attempted a court injunction to prevent the lifeguards from picketing in front of the pool, according to a statement by the STTCAQ. That case was contested and won by the STTCAQ.
SODEM was contacted by Parc-Extension News but did not respond to requests for an interview.
“It’s only five cents above the minimum wage for people whose job it is to protect us and save lives. It’s ridiculous,” said Chantal Ide, Vice-President of Conseil Central du Montreal Metropolitain-CSN.
“The union showed good faith by lowering their demands so it’s time for the boss to do so,” said Ide, and concluded stating “we’re not going to give up.”