Mary Iacampo’s voice quivers, nearly breaking under the strain of emotion when she talks about how much she misses visiting her mother Carolina at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery.
“It shouldn’t be allowed,” she told The Suburban. “It just shouldn’t be allowed.”
Locked out since January, she, like hundreds of other visiting families, have been banished from the cemetery due to a strike by some 120 office and maintenance workers.
The Fabrique that runs the cemetery and Notre-Dame Basilica says it is “an employer of choice, offering all its employees a comprehensive compensation package, including wages and benefits, unparalleled in the industry.” That package includes permanent operations employees receiving base hourly salary above $30.50, four-day work weeks, six weeks annual vacation and a pension plan. The union says the employer acts in bad faith, hasn’t increased wages and is cutting employment levels.
It hurts enough to be a political football in any dispute, but it’s agonizing for Iacampo who lost her mother in September 2020, and who has visited her every single week until this past January when the gates were locked.
“This has to end. What will it take to end this?” The cemetery claims it doesn’t have any money, says the NDG resident, “but they won’t show the books, it’s all very murky. The employees say they have it hard, but I think they have it pretty good… I don’t understand the reason, are they trying to kick the unionized workers out? Is that it?” But it doesn’t matter, she says. “They don’t call you back, they don’t answer emails, and all I know is I miss my mom and I can’t see her. It affects me… a lot. I want to be closer to her so she can comfort me,” she told The Suburban. “I speak to her, I share with her, I ask her for advice. It’s the closest I can get to her.”
“It’s bad enough to mourn someone but to not be able to at least go and speak to her?”
Long before the lockout she and many others reported the cemetery was already in horrible shape, described as “pitiful” by the union which blames the employer. Unclean, doors not closing properly, water and dirt leaking into mausoleums, water sources cut off from families tending to flowers, and furniture in a decrepit state around the cemetery, which is a heritage site.
Iacampo says she couldn’t keep track of the number of cars turned away last weekend, people who didn’t know the cemetery was shut down, and stunned faces from across the city and including a group from New York.
Next Monday would be Carolina Iacampo’s 89th birthday and Mary has written to politicians, the media, anyone who can help end this standoff, which many families say is undignified and indecent. She even wrote to the Vatican pleading for any intervention.
Closer to home, a heartbroken daughter stands alone outside the locked gates of Canada’s largest cemetery, begging anybody who will listen, to just let her in.
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