The combined Public Service Alliance of Canada and Union of Northern Workers bargaining team is still in the midst of reaching a new collective agreement with the City of Yellowknife as the two parties enter the new year.
Jack Bourassa, regional vice-president for PSAC North, said last week that although city workers have been without a contract since the last agreement expired Dec. 31, 2018 it is still early in the negotiation process. The parties are working toward conciliation dates, likely for April, Bourassa said.
Last October, the union announced negotiations were at an impasse after a third round of negotiations.
“I’m still hopeful,” Bourassa said. “It is not uncommon, especially when you reach an impasse, as we have reached where people can get a little bit positional and maybe the language is a little strong. That is just a normal part of bargaining and not really such a big deal. ”
There are approximately 200 employees with the municipality and is one of the larger employers that the union has to bargain with.
The update, entitled ‘City Refuses to Address Members’ Concern,’ states that the union is seeking improvements to areas that include work-life balance, keeping up with the cost of living, and avoiding contracting-out services.
“Basically for us it is job security and work-life balance and just keeping up with the cost of living,” Bourassa said. “Really just the three basics. The little bits and pieces of language that we have relate to each of those.”
With regards to work-life balance, the communique notes that there are about 10 demands and that the city has “ignored (them) in their final offer.” Among them include better vacation accrual, new medical travel leave, improved casual leave, addressing the cap on lieu-time, implementing employee health and wellness initiatives, and new emergency leave.
“The list goes on,” the update reads. “Work-life balance is clearly an important priority for the bargaining team, but the City of Yellowknife chose to end negotiations without addressing it.”
In terms of the cost-of-living, the update states that the city has “refused to increase housing and vacation allowances” but has “only agreed to shuffle money around.”
“Furthermore, the annual wage increases offered by the City do not even match the projected increase of the cost of living for 2019 and 2020,” states the update.
The union also asserts the city’s offer leaves members with weaker spending power for basic amenities.
As far as “contracting out,” the union notes vaguely that the city “has sent emails to members with assurances that they claim address key issues, including contracting-out” but adds that those assurances need to be put in a collective agreement.
In October, the city announced in a news release that it “the stumbling block” between the two parties was the city’s ability to contract out services at the dump.
“Under the Collective Agreement, the City has a right to contract out work provided there is prior consultation with the Union on potential plans, which took place August 1st, 2019,” the city stated in a news release.
Bourassa said the union ideally aims for three-year contracts each negotiating term, however the city will typically ask for longer-terms in order to plan financially over a longer term.
“Generally we shoot to about three years and sometimes the employer will want a whole lot more,” he said, adding that for the union, it is the worry that cost-of-living, and interest rates in particular, can increase in a short period of time.
Bourassa said the situation is far from any need for alarm and is part of the negotiating process.
“It is not like for the GNWT (collective agreement last year) where there was something that was going to blow up in our faces,” he said. “Everything is cooler and the members are still happy there. They like their work environment. They are even not too concerned about bargaining but understand that what is going is a normal part of the process.”
Yellowknifer provided the city with a series of questions Thursday seeking a response to the bargaining update. Answers were still forthcoming at the end of the day Friday.