Cree police sign collective agreement with the Cree Nation Government

The Eeyou Eenou Police Force officially joined the Federation des Policiers Municipaux du Quebec on April 1 and signed a collective agreement with the government in August.

Cree Nation Government wary of union, Eeyou Eenou Police say officers now have better job security

Const. Shannon Nakogee, left, and Const. Bianka Sharl-Roy say being unionized offers them better job security. (Submitted by Lorie Giroux)

The Cree Nation Government has recently signed its first collective agreement with the unionization of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force, the regional police service that serves the nine Cree communities in northern Quebec.

The force officially joined the Federation des Policiers Municipaux du Quebec on April 1 and signed the collective agreement in August.

Executive director of the Cree Nation Government Bill Namagoose says the government fought against the unionization of the officers but he supports the police force's decision.

"Not that we were opposed to the union," he said. "We felt that the union was not necessary because the working conditions [for officers] were very up to date and modern."

With more than 500 people on staff, including contractual and casual workers, Namagoose says there was never a need for unionization in the past.

He said Cree Nation Government employees are offered good benefits, and when grievances do arise within the organization, they are dealt with appropriately. Namagoose said he feels unions can create a hostile environments in those situations.

Bill Namagoose says he was opposed to unionization because officers already had good benefits and working conditions, but the Cree Nation Government will honour the agreement. (Jaime Little/CBC)

In accordance with the new collective agreement, officers will receive a raise in salary. Namagoose says this causes a problem for the government because salaries come from fixed funding agreements negotiated with the governments of Canada and Quebec.

Shannon Nakogee, president of the new Eeyou Eenou Police Association and a constable in the Cree community of Mistissini, confirmed salary increases are in the agreement but said job security was a large part of the decision to unionize.

He explained officers are often involved in physical confrontations to protect themselves in the line of duty and have been fired in the past due to allegations such as abuse of power and use of excessive force. Being part of a union means officers will not have to face such allegations alone and will have someone on their side to defend them.

Nakogee says some officers were becoming hesitant to use force in situations where it was called for and it was affecting their job performance.

"We felt that it was getting to a point where you wouldn't want to get physical because you might lose your job the next day," he said.

Bianka Sharl-Roy, vice-president of the association and also a constable in Mistissini, says the rest of the provisions in the agreement are standard and the union helps to unite the 70 to 80 constables and inspectors of the nine communities.

"When you have an issue with the organization, the union will help you out. Together we have a bigger voice," she said.

The current collective agreement will be in place for the next three years. It will be up for renegotiation after two.