Family celebrates funeral months after loved one’s passing due to cemetery labour dispute

The Stratigopolous family was living grief all over again Monday after they were finally able to lay to rest George Stratigopolous, months after he passed away.

“It hurts so much,” said granddaughter Emerald Stratigopolous moments after a brief service at her grandfather’s graveside. “I’ve been seeing my grandmother just be in pain just waiting for this day to happen. It’s been seven months.”

The family is one of hundreds who are only now able to lay to rest the remains of their loved ones following a months-long strike by maintenance workers at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, which started in January. It led to a backlog of hundreds of bodies.

“It’s very tough on our family and I’m sure many others that are waiting all these months to bury their loved ones,” said grandson George Stratigopolous, who shares his grandfather’s name.

The Montreal cemetery workers reached a deal with the employer in July, but because of the number of downed trees from last winter’s ice storm, burials resumed only in August.

“We went from 430 caskets in storage,” explained cemetery spokesperson Eric Choinière. “We’re at 166.”

He said he believes if the cemetery can do 30 to 35 casket burials weekly, it can clear the backlog in five weeks. But he also pointed out, “We’re approaching Christmas time so people might want to postpone.”

Complicating matters, though, is the fact that the cemetery’s administrative staff are still on strike over salary and working conditions. It’s been 15 months. Choinière says without the staff, the company is arranging about eight casket burials a day. Striking workers say they can exceed that.

“We can do at least 25,” claimed union president Eric Dufault, “so this is why there’s a lot of delay.”

The Straigopolous family is one of the lucky ones. Though family members are now relieved, they wish they and others hadn’t gone through the ordeal of waiting.

“Just let us at least bury them early somehow,” Emerald Stratigopolous said. “Give us something, because seven months is way too long.”

The Stratigopolous family is just happy to finally have the experience behind them.

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