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CPE workers at Y start pressure tactics over contract dispute

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Educators at the day care centre at the YM-YWHA demonstrate to press their contract demands.

MONTREAL — While a labour dispute at one Centre de la petite enfance (CPE) in the Jewish community has been resolved, tensions over stalled contract talks at another are increasing.

CPEs are the government-subsidized $7-a-day day care centres throughout the province.

A seven-week lockout of staff at the CPE Maimonide Côte St. Luc ended May 15 when its 20 educators, represented by the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec, and management reached an agreement.

That dispute, mainly over time off to be paid, ended only after a conciliator was appointed by the Labour Ministry.

The educators returned to work May 22.

Meanwhile, the 20 educators at the CPE du Y, located at the YM-YWHA branches in Snowdon and the West Island, are making their frustration with the pace of negotiations known by wearing T-shirts reading, “Pay us now.”

They were planning to begin picketing before work last week, said chief union negotiator Mordechai Antal, president of the Federation of Teachers of Jewish Schools, with which the CPE du Y staff is affiliated. The intention, for now, is not to disrupt services for the approximately 80 children under their care, he said.

Similar to CPE Maimonide, the disagreement is principally over how many of the days when the centre does not provide services the educators should be paid for. The hourly salary scale is set by the government.

The union was also considering filing a complaint of unfair labour practice against CPE management, with the Quebec Labour Board.

The CPE du Y management counters that its offer to the union is “fair, reasonable and fiscally responsible.”

In a statement issued through Jonathan Goldbloom, an outside public relations professional, management explained that in July 2007, the union signed a letter of agreement stipulating that educators would be paid on closed days as long as the Ministry of Families and Seniors (which is responsible for the CPEs) provided a subsidy. At that time, the subsidy was for an unspecified number of closed days.

One year later, the ministry announced a retroactive change in policy, Goldbloom said, “indicating that from then on, it would only subsidize a maximum of 13 closed days.” These included statutory and other holidays, and professional days.

“In negotiating this collective agreement, the CPE du Y must responsibly take this new reality into consideration and has offered to compensate the educators for the maximum funded by the [ministry] plus an additional two days, for a total of 15 closed days.”

Talks began April 14 on a new collective agreement. The union was unhappy from the outset because the bargaining began two months after it submitted its proposals.

Antal charged that management has acted in “an unfair and belligerent fashion.” By last week, he said, contact between the two sides was made only through their respective legal counsels.

Antal said the CPE cut five paid days from educators’ annual pay this year, specifically for Jewish holidays on which it closes.

He noted that at CPE CCJ (Centre Communautaire Juif), which is also located at the Snowdon Y, and now at CPE Maimonide, staff are paid for Jewish holidays.

The CCJ and Y, until last year, had a joint collective agreement, Antal said.

The loss of paid days is unacceptable, especially in light the nearly $50,000 surplus recorded in last year’s audit of the CPE du Y, he said. “Removing approximately $15,000 in salaries from teachers was clearly not a financial necessity,” he charged.

Goldbloom said the CPE du Y is a non-profit organization where “surpluses come and go.

“That surplus is to be used for capital improvements, unexpected expenses and, somehow, to pay the extra two days of holidays.”

At CPE Maimonide, the agreement allows the educators to continue to be paid for a full week at Christmas and for all Jewish holidays on which the centre closes – as many as 19 days during the year. They can also continue to have up to five paid days after the death of a close relative, instead of the three days sought by management.

The number of hours they are required to work will remain between 29 and 33 hours. Management had wanted the work week to be 35 to 37.5 hours, depending on the time of year.

The lockout was imposed March 30, after the parties had met eight times to negotiate since Nov. 15, 2011. Under their contract, the educators were due to have a 2.5 per cent raise April 1.

Management cited financial difficulties as the reason for the measure. The CPE is located in École Maimonide, a Jewish day school.

While closing on Jewish holidays is, of course, particular to those CPEs under Jewish auspices, Antal pointed out that the government extends leeway to all CPEs in the province to “negotiate different rights and privileges according to their own unique situation,” including paying for days other than the statutory holidays, which must be covered.

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