Unionized housing workers in Iqaluit now on strike over wages
13 Iqaluit Housing Authority staff walked off the job Friday morning
Iqaluit Housing Authority employees are out on the picket lines Friday morning calling for better wages, increases to allowances and no concessions.
Picketing began at 8 a.m. in front of the Iqaluit Housing Authority building on Sivumugiaq Street, and ended around noon. The required minimum is four hours according to union rules. The picket line is expected to start up again Monday morning starting at 8 a.m.
About 13 workers are on strike. Ten of them were out Friday morning at –26 C — windchill of –42 C — with signs and noisemakers, rotating between the picket line and warming up in cars.
The members belong to the Nunavut Employees Union, which is part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). The union served the housing authority with notice of a potential strike on Monday, and says the housing authority responded by issuing a notice Wednesday that it would lock out staff this weekend.
Jason Rochon, the president of the union, said there had been no movement on negotiations since Tuesday.
"We need an offer that's going to reflect the inflation climate and there's way too many concessions on the table … we need for them to be taken off the table and we need to sit down with the employer and start really negotiating," said Rochon, who added Friday afternoon that he hasn't yet heard from the housing authority.
Daniel Kolola is a plumbing apprentice and has worked at the housing authority for three years. He said he is concerned about his clients — given that pipes will likely freeze today — but that he needs higher wages.
"I want to be able to buy a house, you know, when I get older and with some of these rates, [it] looks like I won't be able to," he said.
On Thursday night, the union posted a letter to Facebook from Rochon and PSAC North representative Lorraine Rousseau, addressed to Lorne Kusugak, the minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, and Eiryn Devereaux, the president and CEO of the housing corporation.
The corporation oversees the Iqaluit Housing Authority's budget, including employee salaries, according to the union.
The letter said notice of strike action came "after exhausting all attempts to reach a fair agreement on behalf of the unionized workers of the [housing authority] and was not done lightly."
The housing corporation declined to comment Friday on the strike. CBC News has reached out to the housing authority and will update this story when it receives a response.
In a statement Tuesday, the housing corporation said there would be an impact to operations if workers chose to strike. It also noted the housing authority has contingency plans in place to make sure critical maintenance services continue.
Negotiations between the union and the housing authority reached an impasse in the fall and broke down entirely earlier this week.
The union has said the housing authority is currently offering a wage increase of between 1.25 and 1.5 per cent, but workers are looking for more.
"Employees at the [housing authority] have been leaving that employer for better paying jobs in Iqaluit, leaving the [housing authority] in disarray and placing unhealthy pressure on remaining staff," Rochon wrote in Thursday's letter.
"This is not an Iqaluit issue. Local housing organizations throughout Nunavut are in the same dire situation."
He added the unions are calling on the housing corporation to step in and help resolve the impasse.
With files from Emily Haws