Despite opening on Mother’s Day, Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, which has been closed since January due to a labor dispute, remains closed on Father’s Day.
The cemetery opened for a day last month to allow relatives to visit the graves of their loved ones, but large queues formed at the only open entrance. It was the first time in months that the cemetery was open to the public.
“Certainly, it was very popular, but it was a disaster,” said Éric Dufault, the president of the union representing office workers at the cemetery. “We were there on Mother’s Day and it was a really bad experience for the families.”
The closure of the cemetery, now in its sixth month, continues to frustrate families who cannot visit the graves of their loved ones or bury their relatives. More than 300 bodies are currently in storage awaiting burial as the labor dispute continues.
“It’s time for both sides to come to a conclusion,” said Michael Musacchio, whose daughter, Vanessa Musacchio, is buried in the cemetery. “You have to bring humanity back into the equation.”
Musacchio, who has pushed for the cemetery to be opened, said the grounds are overgrown and littered with branches that fell during an ice storm that hit Quebec on April 5.
“The cemetery is literally a disaster area. It will be several months before the strike is over,” he said.
Meanwhile, negotiations with the cemetery’s maintenance and office workers on the one hand and management on the other seem to have stalled.
Dufault said the main sticking point in the negotiations was management’s refusal to give in to two of the workers’ demands: a pay raise that includes back pay and the workers’ desire to maintain or expand the workforce.
Daniel Granger, spokesman for the cemetery, said the non-profit organization that manages the site relies on income from the families of the deceased. It should be more efficient and be able to operate at a price it can afford, he said.
The standoff means the cemetery must remain closed, Granger said. The tree branches and overgrown vegetation are dangerous to visitors, he said. A small team of managers has been able to evacuate some branches in time for Mother’s Day, but there is still too much work to do.
“We need our people back to do this cleanup,” he said.
The cemetery’s management said in a statement they had proposed a temporary ceasefire before the strike to help clean up and allow the cemetery to reopen for a few days, but union leaders declined the offer.
Dufault said the employees wanted to return and take care of the site full-time — not just for a few days.
Musacchio urges the Quebec government to intervene to end the strike.
Quebec Labor Minister Jean Boulet said in a statement that he has appointed two mediators to help the parties reach a common agreement.
“We will make sure that the process of finding solutions continues,” he said. “We are prepared to take further steps if the parties do not reach a solution quickly. This conflict has gone on for too long.”
Meanwhile, Musacchio and the other families can only wait.
“We’re not here to take sides,” he said. “The workers have the right to strike. The employer has the right to negotiate. However, after six months of doing this and no solution, the bodies are piling up.”