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Disappointment lingers for Quebec teachers after tense contract negotiations

Veteran teacher Gisèle Marcoux has been back at work at Notre-Dame-de-Grace Annexe since January, but received her first paycheque of the year last week due to the strike. Erin Seize/Global News

Teacher Appreciation Week, which is held every February, took on a new meaning this year in Quebec after the education sector was rocked by strikes.

Some teachers say they feel supported by parents and their bosses, but not by the Legault government in the aftermath of the strike and tense contract talks. The public-sector walkouts marked the third largest strike in North America, according to McGill University sociology professor of labour movements Barry Eidlin.

Gisèle Marcoux, a kindergarten teacher at Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Annexe school in Montreal, has “felt a difference” since the strike. She has been a teacher for 31 years.

“[The parents of students] know how hard it is for us. They see it, they hear it from their own kids,” she said.
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“The parents have been extraordinary,” said Desea Trujillo, another kindergarten teacher at the same school. “They created a food bank for us. They asked for donations on Monkland (Avenue). They did a GoFundMe, they gave us each $150 in gift cards for groceries.”

Parents showed their gratitude for teachers at Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Annexe elementary school with flowers and goodies for Teacher Appreciation Week on Feb. 8, 2024.
Parents showed their gratitude for teachers at Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Annexe elementary school with flowers and goodies for Teacher Appreciation Week on Feb. 8, 2024. Courtesy of Gisèle Marcoux

While Trujillo and Marcoux feel appreciated by parents and colleagues, they say the Quebec government has failed them.

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During the strikes, over 560,000 public sector workers walked out. Hundreds of thousands took to the picket lines across the province.

The strike by the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE), a labour federation representing teachers at Trujillo and Marcoux’s school, shut about 800 schools for more than four weeks. It ratified its negotiations two weeks ago on a narrow majority of 50.58 per cent.

The new collective agreement includes a 17.4 per cent pay raise over five years, 5,000 more teachers in classes, and an increase in the number of classrooms. But unions have said teachers are disappointed with the government’s final offer, especially when it comes to to class composition and workload.

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Eidlin feels there is greater public appreciation for essential workers since the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says there are “groups of workers that were being proclaimed as essential workers but treated as disposable,” which Eidlin believes motivated the strike.

Desea Trujillo, left, and Gisèle Marcoux, right, are adjusting to life back in the classroom at Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Annexe elementary school on Feb., 2024.
Desea Trujillo, left, and Gisèle Marcoux, right, are adjusting to life back in the classroom at Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Annexe elementary school on Feb., 2024. Erin Seize/Global News

For teachers like Trujillo, the new deal is not enough.

“I’m disappointed and thinking of leaving public school,” said Trujillo. “There’s a private school that I have my eye on in another town,” even though the job at the private school would not be unionized.

“I wanted a result in the end because we were fighting for the rights of our children, the most vulnerable members of our society,” she said.

Global News reached out to the Quebec Education Ministry earlier this week about the teachers’ concerns, but did not receive a response.

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Trujillo and Marcoux are not alone in their dissatisfaction. FAE president Mélanie Hubert said in a recent press conference, “public schools are suffering, the teaching profession is suffering, teachers are suffering–and the public knows it.”

Despite the difficulties of the job, Marcoux and Trujillo enjoyed bonding with their colleagues during the strike.

“I felt like there was this social movement. We are half a million people on strike at the same time,” said Trujillo. “I live for that kind of stuff.”

with files from The Canadian Press and Global’s Annabelle Olivier

Click to play video: 'Quebec premier warns of bigger deficit due to surge in spending on teachers'
Quebec premier warns of bigger deficit due to surge in spending on teachers

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