Brad Enge, a former vice president with the Northwest Territories Federation of Labour and former UNW Local 1 president, says he thinks unions have outlived their usefulness.
Enge said he is not against organized labour unions and believes they served an important purpose in the past when employee-employer relations were not what they are today.
“But in the Northwest Territories there have been enactments of so many different statutes, worker’s compensation branch, WSCC, the Safety Act, Employment Labour Standards,” said Enge.
“There are so many statutes and laws now that employers have to abide by. And the usefulness and the need for unions has become basically redundant because legislatures have caught up with the needs of employees and employers. ”
Enge said many workers with UNW membership have kept a hands-off approach to the union.
“Because they were no threat to us and they weren’t really impacting our daily work lives or family lives,” he said.
“They took our money and remained quiet, and never did very much until a collective agreement expires. And now we’re in a situation where Todd Parsons is claiming that the UNW has been working extremely hard for the past three years negotiating a collective agreement and nothing could be further from the truth.”
Ask UNW President Todd Parsons for a list of cancelled and rescheduled meetings from the past three years, Enge said.
“There were a lot of meetings that were cancelled by him because he didn’t want to meet. So the bargaining units could never get together. That is not indicative of somebody working extremely hard to get a new collective agreement in place.”
Another serious issue with the union is a lack of financial accountability, said Enge.
He estimates that the UNW collects around $7.2 million a year in dues from its members.
“The average deduction on a paycheck is around $70, times 26 pay periods in a year, times approximately 4,000 employees and you can do the arithmetic,” said Enge.
“So about $7.2 million annually that flows into the coffers of UNW.”
An additional 89 cents per paycheck is deducted for the Union’s Social Justice Fund, which following the same formula as above, would add up to about $104, 000 a year.
“So $104,000 a year of our money goes to the social justice fund which is administered by the PSAC office in Ottawa,” said Enge.
“No one’s ever seen an audited financial statement of what they’ve been doing with that money,” he said.
The UNW has yet to respond to Yellowknifer’s request to view audited financial statements, including how much they collect in union dues and for the Social Justice Fund, a breakdown of how those funds are administered and the yearly salaries of all the executive members.
Yellowknifer sought comment from Parsons about issues raised by Enge but hadn’t heard back from him by the end of the business day Friday.
The union also has yet to respond to multiple requests about the change in strike pay announced earlier today, from $117 a day to 60% of employees’ gross salary, how that decision was made and where those funds are coming from.
No option to opt out of union membership
“The problem that we have, GNWT employees, is that we’re required by territorial legislation to be represented in collective agreement matters by the UNW,” said Enge.
The UNW Act gives them the exclusive monopoly of representing all GNWT employees, who have no choice in the matter he explained.
Enge said he and other government workers have lost confidence in the union’s leadership and bargaining team.
“We’re not asking the GNWT employer to impose a collective agreement, what we’re asking is that the GNWT remove the legislative requirement that we be represented by the UNW,” said Enge.
But their concerns go beyond the inability to reach a new collective agreement in the last three years.
“The UNW leadership does not keep the member’s best interests in mind and they have in fact removed two local, duly elected board of directors.”
Enge said when he was the president of Local 1 in Yellowknife he became ill and couldn’t attend meetings because he was in the hospital.
“And that’s when Todd Parsons swooped in and removed the board of directors and put in a trustee.”
According to the UNW’s website, Local 1 was placed into trusteeship on April 30, 2018.
“And now the trustee takes direction from the UNW executive and they refuse to have an AGM to elect a new board,” Enge said.
“There’s a group of people in Yellowknife that I’ve spoken to, even during the short tenure that I had as a Local 1 president, I had members in Local 1 come to me and tell me that they’re totally against a strike, they don’t see the need for it,” said Enge.
Members didn’t understand why the union wasn’t striving to just achieve a cost of living increase to keep up with the rate of inflation.
At a February 5 (2018) meeting of all the presidents of locals in the UNW, Todd Parsons gathered everyone together to say that they would conduct a strike vote which would achieve a 70 per cent favourable outcome, Enge said.
“This is in February of 2018 even before he held the vote, he had already predicted that he’d get a 70 per cent favourable strike vote. Where he got those numbers, I don’t know.”
During that meeting, Enge said he spoke up and suggested the union try different negotiation tactics, come up with new solutions and move forward ensuring there wouldn’t be a strike.
“Such as explain to the employer that for example, that we will accept a zero-zero settlement in a new collective agreement but pursue let’s say a thousand dollar signing bonus for each of those two years that we got a zero per cent pay increase,” he said.
But Enge said those ideas were shut down by everyone at that meeting and he was accused of siding with the employer, or the GNWT.
“I got shouted down by the rest and the president that I’m in favour of the employer when I’m not,” he said.
“I’m part of an organized labour organization, I represent my members and my local. I’ve got their best interests in mind.”
Enge said he had been told very clearly by his members that none of them were interested in a strike.
“They understand the fiscal situation in the territories, we’re completely dependent, you know 70 or 75 per cent of our income comes from federal transfer payments under the territorial funding formula.”
His members just wanted to keep up with inflation and were not interested in strike action that could hurt them financially.
“It’s the best interests of the members that should be at the forefront not a clash between Todd Parsons and the government.”
Conduct at constituency meeting ‘deplorable’
Enge said the behaviour of union leaders at Premier and MLA for Yellowknife South Bob McLeod’s constituency meeting on Tuesday was “deplorable.”
“Because that was a constituency meeting for him as the MLA for that area in the city and it was not designed to be ambushed by a group of union leaders,” he said.
“It was to deal with constituency issues and they completely overreached their actions by going there and yelling and shouting him down and intimidating him.”
The worst thing of all was one member’s statement referencing the Giant Mine strike in 1992, said Enge.
“Which was a direct inference of the death and mayhem that (striking miner Roger) Warren had inflicted during the Royal Oak strike,” said Enge.
“To draw that inference, that’s a false equivalency to make by asserting that the misinterpretation of the press release.”
The territorial government’s press release laid out a clear, respectful, responsible process for employees to follow if they wanted to work during the strike but it was not an endorsement to cross picket lines, said Enge.
“It was an individual choice for employees to make.”
Union doesn’t have its members interests in mind
Enge feels the union is trying to create the impression that more members support a strike than actually do.
“They’re trying to control the message and bamboozle the members to make it appear as though the employer is being unreasonable,” he said.
On top of that, serving a strike notice just two days before mediation is bad faith bargaining.
“You’re just going through the motions of mediation because you’ve already served a strike notice.”
And of all the seasons to go on strike, doing it during a cold winter is not in the best interest of employees.
“It seems that scheduling of a strike during the coldest months of the year is a message to members that their health is not a priority,” he said.
“If you want to go on strike, go on strike in July.”