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CUPE’s 25,000 members in the municipal sector in Qub0065c inside and outside workers, recreation and cultural workers, and school crossing guards are geared up for battle, prepared to oppose vigorously the legislation rushed through by the Bouchard government to impose municipal mergers and the creation of metropolitan communities.

We are not opposed in principle to mergers or the creation of metropolitan communities, says Jean Lachance, who chairs the provincial council in the municipal sector in Qub0065c. The government could have had us as allies in this process.

But instead it chose to use the mergers as a pretext for attacking our freedom of association and our fundamental right to free collective bargaining, passing laws that circumvent the Labour Code to freeze working conditions and even applications for certification.

This is something we will never accept, not from the government and not from employers or municipal associations that have been seeking to undermine our working conditions for years, Lachance warns.

The new act requires that as soon as a merger is ordered, all certification bids, interest arbitration and collective bargaining come to a halt. Worse, the right to strike is suspended for 15 months!

So if a municipality wants to get out of a signed collective agreement, all it has to do is stall negotiations and wait for the compulsory arbitration provided for in the Act, which rules out any additional costs to municipalities for pay, premiums, allowances, etc. The result? Working conditions are frozen and reduced to the lowest common denominator.

For example, a municipality that has been in bargaining since 1999 and uses all the provisions of the new act could avoid any new collective agreement until 2004. Under the Act, an arbitrator is denied the power to grant minimum staffing levels to groups that dont already have them, even if such a minimum can be justified by the evidence, working conditions in the other municipalities and economic conditions.

We are ready to work with municipal politicians on municipal reform, but not if it means that the reform is used as a pretext to take away basic rights that have always been recognized, including the right to free collective bargaining recognized by the International Labour Organization, said Lachance. We say no to any reform that is carried out at workers expense, and we will do what we must to make sure this no is heard loud and clear in government backrooms and the cushy offices of the Conseil du patronat (employers lobby).

The provincial council has begun a campaign using various tactics including mass leafleting, letters to members of the National Assembly, cabinet ministers and local and national politicians to make clear our opposition to these concerted attacks on union freedom in the municipal sector. The battle has just begun!

Louis Cauchy