Yellowknife Northwestel employees struggle for answers as jobs move to Whitehorse

Northwestel is moving technical support staff from Yellowknife to Whitehorse, which has left affected employees wondering for months about their future at the company. 

Northwestel spokesperson denies any staff have left company in wake of job relocation

The Northwest Tower building in Yellowknife is owned by McCOR Management Inc. and houses Northwestel’s Yellowknife operations, among other businesses. (Laura Busch/CBC)

Northwestel is moving technical support staff from Yellowknife to Whitehorse, which has left some affected employees wondering about their future at the company. 

Internal documents obtained by CBC News confirm that on Aug. 13, employees working on the External Service Desk, which provides technical support, were called into a meeting where it was announced their jobs would be moving to Whitehorse by the end of February 2020. 

They were invited to move with their job, or state their desire to stay in Yellowknife, in which case they would be given priority based on seniority for different Yellowknife-based jobs within the company. Other options included a voluntary layoff or severance. 

"In the moment, there was a lot of shock. I don't think anyone saw it coming," said an affected employee who asked for anonymity out of fear that speaking out could impact their future employment. "There were a lot of things that were unclear, but they kept saying 'Don't worry, we're going to send a list of available jobs.'"

There is a lot of doom and gloom.- Northwestel employee

As of last Wednesday, that hadn't happened, alleges the employee. They say that in the meantime, some of the employees who would have been impacted have left Northwestel, either for other jobs in Yellowknife or for jobs with tech companies in other cities. 

More senior employees were able to "bump" those with less seniority for other jobs within the company, according to internal Northwestel documents.

For those who remain, future employment with Northwestel is uncertain. 

"People are doing their best to stay positive, but there is a lot of doom and gloom," said the anonymous employee.

Dispute over number of affected staff

It's unclear exactly how many people were working at the Yellowknife External Service Desk when the changes were announced. The anonymous employee estimates at least 40 Yellowknife residents were directly affected by the centralization of customer service in Whitehorse. 

"That number is false," said Andrew Anderson, Northwestel's director of communications, who said on Monday that 20 staff and one manager are impacted, all of whom remain with the company.

We fully expect to be a major presence in Yellowknife going forward.- Andrew Anderson, Northwestel's director of communications

Anderson said the company is "still working to provide options" for nine of those employees.

"For the record, zero people in the affected team have left the company. One hundred per cent are still with Northwestel," Anderson stated in a follow-up email. 

"I'm dead certain that several people have left," the anonymous employee said in response. 

"We've had both a farewell lunch and a farewell dinner for staff departing, and the internet side of the External Service Desk team has been understaffed for months now as a result of people departing because of the move announcement."

Company signs new 10-year lease in Yellowknife

The company stated in an email to CBC News last Thursday that "several new staff positions have been created in or relocated to Yellowknife, including the [Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link] team." However, Northwestel didn't specify when those positions were created.

"With between 100 to 200 employees in the N.W.T., Northwestel is the territory's largest high-tech employer, and we fully expect to be a major presence in Yellowknife going forward," reads the statement.

"In fact, this fall, Northwestel renewed its lease in the Yellowknife Northwestel Tower for the next 10 years." 

Northwestel employees are unionized under the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1574. Requests to the local union branch for comment did not immediately receive a response.

Internal documents about the restructuring state that Northwestel and the union agree the way the change was implemented follows the collective agreement.