Contract negotiations between Montreal school crossing guards and the city are at a standstill over an issue that stems from changes made to employment insurance rules.

The crossing guards have been without a contract since August 2011, and talks between their union and the city have stalled over the issue of Christmas holidays.

'We're the poor children of Montreal. We’re not white-collar and we’re not blue-collar.'- Fernande Tremblay

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 930 representative Carole Bouchard said that, until recently, crossing guards used employment insurance to get paid for some days off around Christmas.

She said new EI reforms are now forcing the city’s crossing guards to prove they are searching for another job while off work — meaning they cannot travel or spend quality time with their families.

“We’re asking for six vacation days during the Christmas holidays,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard said that's the equivalent of what they would have been paid by EI while school is not in session.

Essential service

This hurdle is causing a lot of frustration for the city’s 633 crossing guards, 521 of whom are permanent. As an essential service managed by the Montreal police service, the workers can’t go on strike.

“We’re the poor children of the City of Montreal. We’re not white-collar and we’re not blue-collar. We’re school crossing guards with little security vests on the corner of the street there to protect our children,” said Fernande Tremblay, the president of the Montreal crossing guards association.

She said school crossing guards are indispensable, particularly with growing traffic volume and impatient drivers.

Mayor Denis Coderre said he has been in touch with the union, but would not comment on how negotiations were going.

"I've already sent a message at the table and I'm very sensitive of their needs," Coderre said.