Twenty-two unionized municipal employees in Watson Lake began a strike at 1 p.m. Monday, as the town's earlier lockout came to an end.

"With the collective agreement no longer in place, it is no longer safe for our members to return to work," said Jack Bourassa, executive vice-president for the North region of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, in a news release.

That means the town can "arbitrarily impose conditions it was unsuccessful in negotiating at the bargaining table," the release said.

Jack Bourassa, Vice-President PSAC North

Jack Bourassa, vice-president PSAC North, says the employees are no longer protected by their collective agreement. (Facebook)

A newsletter issued last week by the town noted "if a work stoppage occurs — either a strike by workers or a lockout by the employer — the collective agreement is, essentially, no longer in effect. This means that the town can adjust the terms of employment for its employees if it feels it must."

The town's acting chief administrative officer, Rick Rotondi, told CBC News on Monday morning that the 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. lockout was needed to free up the town's ability to schedule employees to work at the recreation centre on weekends.

Rick Rotondi

The acting chief admnistrative officer Rick Rotondi says essential services like fire protection, water and sewer will be maintained during the labour dispute. (Rick Rotondi)

He said the terms of the collective agreement would remain in place for employees who came back to work after the lockout, except for provisions to do with shift scheduling and the employees' right to file grievances. 

Rotondi said, if a strike commenced, unionized workers are obliged to keep water, sewer and fire protective services in operation.

Watson Lake town employees strike

The unionized employees exchanged their lockout placards for strike signs Monday afternoon. (Fred Lutz)

Scott MacLean, president of the local unit of the Yukon Employees Union, said scheduling is just one of the issues separating the town and the unionized employees.

He said the workers have always been willing to work weekends at the recreation centre, as long as the shifts are part of a seven-day schedule and posted 10 days in advance.

with files from Midday Cafe