Two weeks after the ice storm that caused significant damage in the Montreal area, the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery remains closed. The labor dispute is delaying the cleaning of the place, several paths remaining blocked.
“Thousands of trees were shattered by freezing rain and wind on April 5th and despite our repairs and site cleanup, many of the cemetery’s 33 kilometers of paths are still blocked by trees and branches that show a significant danger for visitors,” said the administration of the cemetery, in a press release published on Tuesday.
Saying they are “saddened by the situation”, the management, which had reopened the cemetery at the end of March, maintains that “several branches, broken by the ice, threaten to fall at any time, which represents an additional risk for visitors. “.
The cemetery, whose employees are still on strike for better working conditions, claims to have called on the union “through the conciliator” to “accept a truce” in order to “secure the site” as soon as possible . “Unfortunately, our proposal was refused by the union,” maintains the management.
“Given the exceptional damage caused by this ice storm, we continue to invite our union partners to help us reopen the Cemetery for the families of the deceased as soon as possible,” she insists.
On the side of the Union of Workers of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, President Patrick Chartrand denounces the attitude of management. “With what’s left to negotiate, I think it could be quick if the employer really wants to settle.” Here is the problem. There, we are trying to find a way to put the problem on us, the bad union members, ”he insists.
“We want to go back to work, but with a new contract. The employer wants to put the saw in our working conditions. We have an employment floor of 62 regulars, they want to lower it to 47. We cannot accept that, ”continues Mr. Chartrand, who pleads for at least “the status quo”. “We’d be comfortable with just holding on to what we’ve learned,” he said.
Until reopening, bereaved families will continue to be seen “by appointment, for cremation and crypt burial services,” management says. However, burials of coffins in the field will have to be postponed to a later date. “We will announce the reopening of the cemetery as soon as the site is secure,” it says.
Office workers at the cemetery have been on strike since last September, and field workers since January. Recently, users of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery had also deplored that they were not able to bury the ashes of their deceased loved ones. In August, in an article in La Presse, the union attributed the situation to the critical shortage of personnel.
Given the strike, weeds are also invading certain parts of the cemetery. In places, the tombs disappear completely under the wild vegetation. “It’s awful,” Debra Czop said last spring, both knees in the dirt. For half an hour, with her mother, Anne Czop, she had been cleaning the small quadrangle around the family tomb.
Last year, 26 employees – mostly maintenance positions – were laid off. The employer had justified its decision by “financial problems”, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had just upset the budget of many companies. The unions have been negotiating with the employer for five years. Cemetery employees have therefore been without an employment contract since December 2018.