Traffic chaos could get worse if Quebec can't make deal with striking engineers
Published Friday, November 3, 2017 11:54AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, November 3, 2017 6:28PM EDT
The Quebec government is urging its striking engineers to come back to the negotiating table.
Quebec Transport Minister André Fortin said Friday that if the strike continues, it will have a major impact on traffic in Montreal and Quebec City.
The sticking point at the moment is night-time inspections.
Structures including overpasses and ramps need to be inspected regularly to ensure they are safe, especially those built in the 1950s and '60s which are known to be in poor shape after being neglected by the province for many years.
It is because so many of those roadways built during that time, such as the Turcot Interchange, are failing at once that driving in Montreal has become an exercise in patience and deciphering detour signs.
Fortin said there are 3,800 inspections conducted annually, and while most of them are already completed for this year, there are 39 structures that still need to be inspected, including 19 in Montreal.
Ideally, these inspections are done overnight to minimize the impact on traffic, but the 1,400 members of the Association professionnelle des ingénieurs du gouvernement (APIGQ) are refusing to work outside daytime business hours as a pressure tactic.
The engineers have been negotiating with the government since 2014 and their collective agreement expired in March 2015.
Treasury Board President Pierre Arcand said the government wants to negotiate, but he will not wait forever.
"I'm really willing to negotiate very quickly on these matters but again, our patience is not unlimited," said Arcand.
"Thirty-six months of negotiations. After 60 meetings, eight new proposals that were made by the government, it is time now that we sit down and try to settle as quickly as possible."
Engineers want a salary increase of 20 per cent over seven years, which has been rejected by the government – it is offering about 5.25 per cent over four years
The union argues that government engineers earn an average of $74,000 annually, with salaries topping out at $82,000.
The union complains its membership is earning about $7,000 more than a government librarian and worries that non-competitive salaries will reduce the amount of engineering expertise available in the public sector.
While negotiations are at a stalemate Fortier said it will have an impact on drivers because performing inspections during the day will have a huge impact on traffic flow starting as early as mid-November.
Fortin used the interchange between Highway 13 and Highway 40 in Montreal as an example.
“You can estimate the amount of traffic that goes through that intersection every day,” he said. “And the inspection that we need to do will block traffic lanes on Highway 40 and Highway 13, because we need to do inspections over the overpass and under the overpass to make sure that it’s still in good condition. So on the day that we plan with the City of Montreal to reduce lanes or to block traffic at that intersection, there will be significant delays.”
Union officials said they are used to the government's tactics.
"We feel like it's a little bit of a tactic of the government to put pressure on us, but this is part of the game," said Marc-Andre Martin, presdient of APIGQ.
"They don't have anything else to offer us so we told them when you are willing to offer something, just call us."
The engineers, who went on strike last spring but backed down under the threat of special back to work legislation, have already disrupted several worksites.
The union membership rejected the last government offer by a margin of 90 per cent. The government meanwhile points out it has settled contracts with 96 per cent of the public service, representing about 510,000 unionized employees.
- With files from The Canadian Press