This past Monday, the CUPE locals that represent municipal outside workers and bus drivers in Sherbrooke, QC, held a day of action to protest the contracting out and privatization of public services. From 4 to 6 pm, they held a solidarity “happy hour,” after which union members marched along Wellington Street to city hall. A delegation then attended the city council question period. Members of other CUPE locals, particularly public transit workers from Montreal and Trois-Rivières were also on hand to show their support.

Highlight of the day: a letter sent from CUPE to Sherbrooke’s Auditor General. The letter states that, on April 10, the Sherbrooke transit authority (STS) contracted out work to a private company, Promenades de l’Estrie, quietly awarding them a $26.7 million contract. CUPE asked the auditor to address the ethical and managerial issues related to how the contract was awarded. Read the full text of the letter (in French only).

“CUPE represents bus drivers in Montreal, Longueuil, Laval, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay. The situation in Sherbrooke is an anomaly in our view, as close to 50% of their routes have been contracted out. As far as municipal outside workers are concerned, there has been a big drop in the quality of services in the boroughs where the work has been contracted out. Keeping work in-house is the best guarantee of quality and transparency,” explained Marc Ranger, the Director of CUPE Quebec, who was on site.

“Service to riders has gone downhill because of all the contracting out by the STS. The subcontractor’s vehicles are not as well maintained, don’t run as well and are not as well equipped. They have created a two-tiered service. It’s time for Sherbrooke to build an efficient, high quality transit system,” added André Marsan, Vice-President of CUPE 3434, the bus drivers’ local.

“Over the next few months, CUPE will be closely examining contracting out issue in Sherbrooke, at every level. We will share our findings to help the public to see the pros and cons. What we want, in the end, are the best possible public services, operating as transparently as possible and giving taxpayers their money’s worth,” said Mathieu Vick, CUPE union representative and researcher.

“Waste and compost collection services were brought back in house in 2012, which has saved Sherbrooke taxpayers about $1 million a year. According to the latest report on municipalities from 2016-2017, Sherbrooke’s waste collection operation was the most inexpensive of all cities of similar size. It was a huge success! By contrast, the same report went on to state that Sherbrooke’s recycling collection services, which have been contracted out, cost the most,” said Benoît Labonville, President of CUPE 2729.