That brought AENQ together with the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ) and the Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec (FIPEQ). Their aim is to get the Cree childcare centres finally unionized. With that, the AENQ-CSQ has just filed its fifth application for certification of the Waseskun Childcare Centre in Eastmain.

The plan is to get the 40 employees of the Waseskun Childcare Centre on a par with their colleagues in the health and education sectors whose salaries and working conditions are more reflective of northern living expenses. Should the application go through, AENQ-CSQ would most likely seek to unionize all of the Cree childcare centres in the Cree Nation.

The union alleges that the childcare workers who work outside of the school and health-care systems have a raw deal with the Quebec government, the Cree Regional Authority and the Cree School Board, which are all in charge of funding the centres.

D’Astous said that the 2005 agreement between the CRA and the CSB regarding daycare services for school-aged children allows for the childcare workers to make less than their public-sector colleagues for the same kind

of work.

“What that deal is all about is to ask the childcare centres to do the job that is usually done in the south by the school boards with their staff. This means the people in the schools doing childcare services for school-aged kids work under the same conditions as those working in daycares instead of having the same working conditions as the support staff in the schools,” said D’Astous.

As northern living expenses are generally factored into public-sector jobs, there is greater salary potential in working for the public instead of private sector.

In a press release, the CSQ and the FIPEQ said they are “demanding that the government of Quebec and the Grand Council of the Cree make a commitment to greater recognition of the essential role that childcare centres and school-childcare services play in the development of the children of Eeyou Istchee by providing the necessary funding to improve conditions to an acceptable level.”

According to D’Astous, different laws exist in the south that regulate schools and school boards and fix the parameters that the school boards have to use to provide those kinds of services. In the north, they do not exist, he said.

In seeking to unionize the childcare workers, D’Astous said that the AENQ is seeking to ensure that female workers are not paid less for their work, such as childcare which is traditionally done by women, and to ensure that they have parity with those in the south doing the same job.

What is standing in the way of these workers unionizing, however, are “the people who are in power,” said D’Astous.

“In Eeyou Istchee, there are several families that have widespread power. A lot of their members are in important positions where they have a big impact on everything that happens in Eeyou Istchee,” said D’Astous.

At the same time, AENQ has a greater vision of becoming a union that is for Native people and run by Native people. When it was originally formed in 1971, the union was comprised mostly of southern workers who had come to the north to work in education. Today, the union’s demographics have changed dramatically.

According to D’Astous, AENQ is comprised of 65% Native people, who are either support staff or teachers, while the other 35% is made up of teachers or specialized support staff from the south. In that AENQ has its own “Native committee” to deal with Native-specific issues in regards to union recommendations, the union feels better positioned to accommodate the Native demographic.

In time, should this particular unionization deal go through, AENQ will seek to draw workers from other employment sectors, those without unions and those already unionized elsewhere, into its fold. It already has its sights set on Cree Health Board employees.

“I want them to examine the money they are putting into their union and the level of services that they are getting. Are they are aware of their union or their services or their rights? If, after their evaluation, they have no clue as to what their union is about and they are spending $1,200 a year on union dues, they should see if there are any alternatives because we are an alternative,” said D’Astous.