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Montreal vows to pay 550 crossing guards amid school strike

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Hours after the union representing Montreal crossing guards sounded the alarm that more than 500 workers would have to go on unpaid leave by Friday, the City of Montreal promised they would still get paid.

Coun. Alain Vaillancourt announced at a news conference Tuesday that the crossing guards affected by the ongoing public sector workers' strike will not have to go without pay.

"We're going to guarantee that we take care of them financially if the strike goes on more than three days. We need our crossing guards. We want to keep them, they are important to us and we don't want to have the teachers' strike impact them financially," said Vaillancourt, who is in charge of public security on the city's executive committee.

"They will be paid," he added, but declined to confirm whether the workers would be paid their full salaries.

"The details will be ironed out ... but I want to reassure them not to worry financially and I want to assure Montrealers that we care about the crossing guards and want to keep them," he said.

Earlier in the day, CUPE warned that 550 crossing guards in Montreal, who make approximately $16,000 per year, would have to apply for employment insurance if the labour action stretches into Friday. 

Lisa Djevahirdjian is a spokesperson for CUPE. (CTV News)

CUPE said it was pleased with the city's announcement, saying in a statement, "We are happy the city is committed to the men and women that keep our kids safe [every day] on their way to school. Thank you for stepping up Valerie Plante."

Unions representing more than 400,000 public sector workers in Quebec launched their first of three consecutive strike days on Tuesday, which resulted in school closures and delayed surgeries for some patients. The striking members include teachers and school support staff, health-care workers, orderlies, and technicians.

A teachers union representing more than 65,000 members will also be on an indefinite strike beginning Thursday.

Hundreds of crossing guards are being affected by the labour action in the education system as no deal with the Quebec government seems to be in sight as of yet. The collective agreement stipulates that once the crossing guards are off for more than three days, they enter into unpaid leave.

A city spokesperson said the current situation only applies to crossing guards who work at schools that are on an unlimited strike, excluding English-language schools and private schools.

In an interview before the city's announcement, CUPE spokesperson Lisa Djevahirdjian told CTV News that the workers were worried about making ends meet given the precarious situation they were facing. 

"There's a human cost to laying off all these people because you have to understand that a lot of crossing guards, most of them are over 50 years old and a great proportion are retirees," she said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

"It's too bad the Quebec government is not able to come to a deal. The problem is there's no deal for public sector workers."

CUPE has raised concerns in the past about what it described as inadequate working conditions the crossing guards in Montreal are faced with. Last November, the union said recruiting and retaining workers has been so difficult that police officers have often been called in to replace them and paid at more than twice the hourly rate.

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