Over two dozen Union of Northern Workers (UNW) members and supporters came out in frigid -33 C temperatures to the entrance of the young offenders unit of North Slave Correctional Facility on Wednesday to show their employers and the GNWT their readiness to strike.
The street corner became crowded as picketers chanted, sounded whistles and cheered as supporters honked their horns while driving by.
The territorial government and UNW have not reached a collective bargaining agreement since negotiations began in January of 2016.
“We want to send a message that this is important to our workers and we are prepared to take whatever job action is necessary to get this resolved in a favourable matter for our members,” said Frank Walsh, president of Local 11 and a nurse at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
“Let’s get back to the table, get back with our union and let’s get these issues resolved,” he said.
Among issues in the current impasse is wages and the government’s use of casual workers, which the union argues the GNWT is exploiting to get around providing benefits and job security enjoyed by regular employees.
According to Walsh, greater than 25 per cent of government workers don’t have full-time status with employers.
UNW members and supporters wore bright orange, many of these orange shirts carrying the message “If provoked we will strike.”
“We want our employers to see us out here, to see our resolve, this is not going to end until we get a fair negotiated deal. We will come out here, we will stand up, the weather will not deter us and we are going to win this battle,” Walsh said, addressing the picketers.
Dave Phypers, a nurse at Stanton Territorial Hospital and Yellowknife resident for over three decades, said he’s tired of watching MLAs receive pay increases while his wages stay stagnant.
“We’re coming up on three years without a deal now. It’s time to get serious about making a contract because if we go on strike it will affect the whole city and the territory,” Phypers said.
The practice picket was organized by members of Locals 9 (Department of Justice) and Local 11 (Stanton Hospital).
This is the second practice picket that has taken place in two months, the most recent being on Dec. 14. That pop-up picket also took place in -30 C weather.