A new bargaining team has been elected for unionized employees at the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority (HRHSSA).
The new members replace three other workers dismissed earlier this month for trying to initiative talks with the employer without the involvement of outside negotiators and lawyers from the Union of Northern Workers (UNW)/Public Service Alliance of Canada.
The new members of the bargaining team for Local 21 are Robb Ross (the president of the local), Alvin Pitre and Sara Swanson, along with union negotiator Gail Lem.
The worker representatives were elected on Jan. 24 to replace dismissed bargaining team members Heather Coakwell (who was also dismissed as president of Local 21), Ann Schreuders and Barbara Holland.
The former members announced their dismissal on Jan. 16, explaining they had looked at options to get back to bargaining with the employer because talks have been largely ineffective.
“The bargaining team approached the employer requesting a meeting without outside lawyers and negotiators, to sit down and have open discussion about the current outstanding issues and how we could come closer to an agreement that would benefit all of the members of the HRHSSA,” the announcement stated.
The ex-bargaining team members said the HRHSSA agreed to the idea, but the union did not and they were removed.
Todd Parsons, the president of the UNW, visited Hay River on Jan. 22 for meetings with the Local 21 executive and membership to deal with the situation.
“There were a lot of strong emotions,” he said. “Members care deeply about what’s going on, but the focus of the meeting was how do we move forward with this round of bargaining.”
Parsons said the decision by the local to elect a new bargaining team was very positive.
“They want to make sure that they are able to get to mediation,” he said, noting that a meeting with a federal mediator is set for Feb. 11, which will be the first negotiations between the two sides since December.
The membership of the local also decided to proceed with a strike vote, which had been cancelled on Jan. 17.
As of late last week, a new strike vote was tentatively set for Jan. 29, which was past the deadline for The Hub.
The UNW is also involved in negotiations with the GNWT and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, and recently announced that those two employers have rejected binding arbitration.
Parsons said the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority has also rejected binding arbitration, which was suggested by the union.
An essential services agreement was reached between the union and the health authority earlier this month, which will mean that about 60 per cent of the approximately 200 workers have been deemed essential and will remain on the job if a strike occurs.
Negotiations between the health authority and the union began in June of 2017, after the previous contract expired on March 31, 2016.