Families feel like ‘prisoners’ amid labour dispute at Montreal cemetery – Montreal |

Evanthia Karassavidis’s father died just over a month ago, after suffering two strokes and multiple health conditions.

After his funeral service, Karassavidis and her family were eager to put her 83-year-old father to rest, but she was informed that wouldn’t be possible — his body wouldn’t be buried when expected because of a labour dispute.

“It’s unheard of, it’s a basic right, to me,” said Karassavidis. “We’re shocked in the sense that, how can this be happening? We have enough to deal with.”

On Jan. 12, the operations and maintenance workers at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery went on strike.

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Since then, the gates to the cemetery have been closed and no ground burials have taken place.

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Mausoleum burials and cremations have continued.

More than two months later, the dispute is still ongoing, and families have been unable to bury their loved ones or visit the graves of relatives.

Dina Ipsilandis’s mother died last week and she said she was shocked to hear that it would be months before her mother is buried.

“It’s really ridiculous, you know? They’re going in the freezer — I don’t know where she went,” said Ipsilandis. “And loved ones can’t come here, they can’t do anything — they’re not allowed.”

Talks between management and the union seem to be stalled.

The two haven’t spoken since Jan. 31, and both say they’re waiting for the other to initiate more negotiations.

“It’s mostly the attitude at the table — it’s take it or leave it,” said Patrick Chartrand, president of the union representing maintenance workers at the cemetery. “There’s no discussions, no exchange of ideas to try and find solutions.”

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Chartrand says maintenance and operations workers have been without a contract since December 2018.

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The cemetery’s office workers have also been on strike since September 2022.

The strike, Chartrand says, was the last resort.

The main stumbling block is job security and staff cuts.

For its part, a spokesperson for the cemetery says its last offer — a wage hike of 15 per cent over five years — is generous.

It’s also asked the union to allow a small team of maintenance workers to continue burials to minimize disruptions for families.

“We’ve made this proposal and unfortunately, up until now, they’ve decided not to accept it,” said Daniel Granger, spokesperson for the Fabrique de la paroisse Notre-Dame, a Catholic organization that manages the cemetery.

Granger says the cemetery has 132 bodies waiting to be buried.

This isn’t the first time the cemetery has had a burial backlog.

In 2007, maintenance workers were locked out during a labour dispute, which resulted in just under 600 bodies being left in cold storage.

Families, however, argue they don’t care who’s right or wrong.

They say they feel like prisoners of the conflict and they want someone to intervene.

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“This is considered a non-profit organization, so why is it being run like a business?” said Peter Lambrinos, whose mother died on Jan. 26. “Why isn’t the government stepping in?”

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