The users of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery are growing impatient: some cannot even bury the ashes of their deceased relatives without help. The union attributes the situation to the blatant lack of staff known in the neighborhood.
Posted at 5:00 am
Henri Ouellette-Vézina La Presse
“My mother died on June 15th and I have been trying to contact the cemetery since June 20th. I never had any news. They either tell me that the manager is on vacation, or they take my information, either this or that. But nothing ever happens,” Lilianne Geerts castigates, touched.
She has therefore been trying for two months to bury her mother, whose parents have often been in the cemetery.
It should be that easy. But no, I never have clear answers. I’m telling you: I’m going to go with my shovel in a moment to do it myself.
Lilianne Geerts, on the phone
On social networks, several other people agree with Ms Geerts’ words. “It’s a pathetic graveyard. I went to my mother and couldn’t find the tombstone, it’s so poorly maintained. The grass is so long. […] I called the cemetery to report the situation and the agent on the phone totally dismissed me. Too bad. No respect for the deceased,” writes Stéphanie Payton in particular.
“Nobody answers the phone, we have to leave a message on the mailbox, except that it regularly fills up and the line cuts out,” adds Jacques Legault. So many comments that Ms. Geerts is not surprised. “They don’t call anyone back. In my efforts, I’ve even heard that they delete voicemails at the end of the day without taking messages. Something is really wrong,” she says.
“Really small” staff
The President of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery Employees Union, Éric Dufault, says he is not surprised by this situation. “Ever since they started downsizing, we’ve been telling management: you’re going to run out of soldiers to handle the amount of services you need,” he says.
“We have families who want to plan a funeral, but it’s all part of a service that we can’t always provide with limited staff. Some co-workers tell me they have 50 messages in one morning so they lock their line. They can’t take it anymore,” admits Mr. Dufault.
He only asks one thing from the employer: transparency.
Do not pretend to be of service to families when they are not. Let’s not pretend we’re still the jewel of Montreal. Let’s be clear that we are understaffed. Let’s be transparent with the families for a moment. We are constantly put in a situation where we have to apologize to the families even though it’s not our fault.
Éric Dufault, President of the Cemetery Clerks’ Union
On the part of the union of workers of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery, President Patrick Chartrand also regrets the situation. “We have never had such a small number of employees, and it shows. There is a lot of seasonal work, lawn and landscaping done with minimal staff. And in the office, the people who stay are overwhelmed, they have trouble returning calls,” he admits over the phone.
In late May, La Presse, with supporting photos, reported that weeds were encroaching on the cemetery. In places, the graves disappear completely under the wild vegetation. “It’s awful,” then Debra dropped Czop, both knees on the floor. She spent half an hour cleaning the small square around the family grave with her mother, Anne Czop.
“I was in management. I asked if they could make sure that at least the grass was mowed. I was told I had to make a special request,” Anne Czop protested before putting the pruning shears back on the ground.
Last year, 26 employees were laid off, mostly in maintenance positions. The employer justified his decision with “financial problems” at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic had just shaken many companies’ budgets, says Patrick Chartrand. The unions have been negotiating with the employer for four years. Cemetery workers have therefore been unemployed since December 2018.
The management of the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery, which was asked to respond, did not respond to the numerous calls and emails from La Presse on Tuesday. None of the representatives answered our questions via email.