Regular MLAs Kieron Testart and Julie Green are pressing for immediate action to address the threat of a looming strike. On Friday, Green will move that the assembly call on the GNWT to agree to enter into binding arbitration before the scheduled strike begins.
Testart asked Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod if the GNWT would consider binding arbitration.
Moments after McLeod suggested the GNWT would not take up binding arbitration, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation served a strike notice Wednesday afternoon.
UNW president Todd Parsons suggested the union would forgo its right to strike if the power corporation and GNWT agreed to binding arbitration.
McLeod reiterated that the GNWT would wait for the result of weekend negotiations. He stopped short of a commitment to accept binding arbitration.
Testart asked whether the GNWT needs a new leader for its negotiation team.
“I am fearful to gamble on optimism at this point. We cannot afford it,” said Testart.
“We know the economy is not in the best place. A strike will slow us down and could have consequences that will take years to recover from.”
Testart said he would work “tirelessly” to bring an end to the dispute. He read out the text of a controversial communique, which unionists allege encourages striking workers to cross the picket line.
Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre, challenged Minister McLeod on that same communique.
“Many interpreted as people being encouraged to cross the picket line. Will the minister walk this statement back?” she said.
He responded, “No I will not … if you read the statement it encourages them to speak to their representative. We thought we would be providing them the best information possible,” he said.
The text reads, “If you are a unionized employee and there is a strike, you may want to work. Unionized employees who are considering coming to work during job action and who have not been deemed Essential or Emergency are encouraged to discuss their choice with their union representative. If you would like to come to work during job action you must contact your most immediate non-unionized supervisor. If you choose to report to work, you may need to cross a picket line at the beginning or end of your work day and your supervisor will discuss with you the protocol for doing so.”
Green asked McLeod how he planned to cool tensions that have flared between the GNWT and UNW.
“Let’s not presuppose the result of negotiation before it even happens,” said McLeod. “My plan is to appeal to people’s good judgement and treat people with respect. I think it will go a long ways.”
Premier rejects allegations that GNWT encouraged crossing picket
A Feb. 6 constituency meeting for Premier Bob McLeod turned sour as unionists grilled him on the communique.
The exchange is captured in a video posted to Twitter by CBC report John Last, who was ejected from the meeting on the basis that the premier did not want constituents’ statements recorded.
A man attending McLeod’s constituency meeting asked the premier, “Why are you encouraging members to cross the picket line? … Don’t you know the history of the North?”
It has been 27 years since Yellowknife’s violent strike at Giant Mine. Strikebreakers replaced striking employees unionized under the Canadian Association of Smelter and Allied Workers (CASAW). The strike turned violent as Royal Oak recruited replacement workers, undercutting strike efforts.
The strike ended in murder on Sept. 18, 1992, when a bomb exploded, killing nine workers, six of whom had crossed the picket line.
McLeod rose from his seat and asked that unionists respect the process, as the territorial government returns to its negotiations on Friday and Saturday.
If no deal is reached, nearly 4,000 GNWT workers will walk off the job Monday. The territorial government tabled its budget Feb. 6 without spending allocations for public service wage increases. Any wage increases must be borrowed as short term debt.