Driver tried to run down workers on picket line in Whitehorse, say non-profit employees

Workers at a non-profit counselling service say they were harassed and threatened on the picket line in Whitehorse on Thursday. Twenty unionized employees at Many Rivers went on strike last week.

Worker on picket line says man threatened him, and driver of truck swerved at him

Many Rivers workers out front of their Whitehorse office on Fourth Avenue. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Workers at a non-profit counselling service in Whitehorse say they were harassed and threatened on the picket line Thursday morning. 

Twenty unionized employees at Many Rivers Counselling & Support Services offices across the Yukon went on strike last Friday over issues including the length of their contract, and pay. 

Paul Johnston, vice-president of the Yukon Employees Union, says a man yelled at striking workers earlier in the week, and the situation escalated when the man returned on Thursday as the strikers were setting up outside the Many Rivers office on Fourth Avenue.

The picketing workers were setting up their sound system, which has been broadcasting music out of loudspeakers while they wave at passing drivers. 

"The next thing I know, there was a gentleman inside our trailer and [he] grabbed the wires from our sound system and ripped them out," said Johnston. 

He says the man started yelling at him to turn off the music. 

"He grabbed my shoulder as if he was going to hit me," Johnston says.

Paul Johnston says he was in shock after a frightening experience on the picket line Thursday morning. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)
 

He says the man continued yelling at other people, then something even more frightening happened — two men in a flatbed truck started driving right at him. 

"[They] tried to run me over. I stepped out of the way ...  my flag was hit, it bent their mirror, actually.

"They said 'Get the 'F' out of our way!'" 

A shaken Johnston said he thinks he would have been injured if he hadn't moved. 

Many Rivers workers contacted RCMP and provided the name of one of the people they believe was involved. 

Johnston says he was told by other workers that the man who threatened them had yelled at them the day before. He wasn't there when that happened. 

Johnston says the picketing workers did turn their music down after receiving two complaints from nearby residents, but they haven't received any complaints through city bylaw or the RCMP. 

"We're within our legal rights. It's a protest. We don't want to be out here protesting, but that's the position that we're in right now."

CBC contacted RCMP about the incident but has not received any information.

Strike about pay and overtime 

Many Rivers counsellors, administrative staff and office coordinators are among those on strike in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Watson Lake and Haines Junction. 

Speaking to CBC last week, Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees Union, said issues include the length of the contract, pay, overtime and how the per diem system works.

He said counselling services for people using employee assistance programs will continue, and the outreach van will keep running during the strike, but the hours may be reduced.

This is the second strike for Many Rivers in the past decade. The non-profit's website lists its sponsors as the federal and territorial governments, Northwestel and North 60 Petro. 

Many Rivers management has not responded to CBC's requests for an interview.