Union president threatens strike

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Territorial government employees will be asked to vote on a strike unless the GNWT offers higher wage increases, their union president warns.

A defiant Todd Parsons issued the ultimatum while speaking with Yellowknifer Friday afternoon. He said after two years of negotiations the two sides remain far apart.

He said meetings for a strike mandate will begin within the next three weeks, with a final vote expected at the end of March.

Todd Parsons: Union of Northern Workers president says a rocky relationship between union and GNWT may lead to a strike.

 

Higher wages for the 4,000 government workers belonging to Union of Northern Workers has been the sticking point since negotiations began in January 2016.

“In this case I’m sure the members are prepared to fight because in recent days since we left the (negotiating) table our members are very frustrated, angry and upset and what I’m hearing in the meetings is, ‘When can we strike?’” said Parsons.

“Balancing that expectation from our members and trying to still get the deal has to be the focus that we need to be on.”

The Union of Northern Workers president said he has been told the GNWT has a $175 million surplus from last year that is being allocated toward infrastructure. He said the union would be satisfied if even five to 10 per cent of that went to increasing wages instead.

A package proposal for collective bargaining from the GNWT to the union states the government acknowledges and appreciates the union has withdrawn many of its monetary proposals, however, the union will not budge on its request for a three per cent wage increase per year over three years.

The counter offer from the GNWT proposes a one per cent increase from April, 2017 – April, 2018 with a 1.1 per cent increase in 2019.

Parson’s said he speaks for all union members when he says that will not cut it.

“We been at the bargaining table this week with the government of the Northwest Territories and it was unproductive to say the least,” said Parsons. “The next step in our process is to go out with our members and ask for a strike mandate … Hopefully that will be enough to encourage the GNWT to come back and provide us with a fair and reasonable offer.”

Although the two sides have been able to come to some common ground as it pertains to mental health initiatives. The two-sides agree proper mental health services are essential in creating a better workspace, however, the union is looking for a different approach.

“We want to look at this more broadly and we acknowledge we need to protect our employees in all aspects of life,” said Parsons. “We prefer a broader approach and we would like to follow the standard on psychological well-being, not something solely here in the NWT which is yet to be developed.”

Parsons is alluding to the government’s continual initiative of helping survivors of residential schools.

The last issue the union is hoping to resolve is job security. Parsons gives the example of correctional officers in the GNWT system.

“The employer has approximately 100 correctional officers working in the NWT and approximately 100 relief employees to back-fill positions and we are trying to correct that,” said Parsons.

The two parties have not come to an agreement since the initial bargaining talks began, said Parsons.

It has created a strained working relationship on the two parties, he said.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find common ground to resolve some of the simple issues,” said Parsons. “It’s always in the interest our members to maintain a working relationship with this employer and any employer which we strive to do with all of our employers. With that said our members set the priority as a union.”

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