Many Rivers counselling staff accept new contract, ending strike

Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services staff in Yukon voted Tuesday to accept a new collective agreement. About 20 employees went on strike in Dawson City, Watson Lake, Haines Junction and Whitehorse in November.

Unionized employees ratified new agreement with employer on Tuesday

The Whitehorse office of Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services. The office will re-open on Feb. 7, along with other Many Rivers branches in Dawson City, Watson Lake and Haines Junction. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Employees of Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services in Yukon have voted in favour of a new collective agreement, after 11 weeks on the picket line.

Many Rivers' management and the Yukon Employees' Union (YEU) announced the tentative agreement on Tuesday morning. The union held a meeting and ratification vote a few hours later.

About 20 employees went on strike in Dawson City, Watson Lake, Haines Junction and Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2018. According to the union, all Many Rivers offices will re-open for business on Feb. 7.

"So they're going to kind of phase people back in," said YEU president Steve Geick.

"And prior to opening the doors, there will be a two-day kind of return-to-work session with the federal mediator involved, to facilitate that."

Union president Steve Geick, seen here on the picket line in November, said the strike was 'like a roller coaster ride for everyone.' (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Geick said it was the longest strike in his eight years as YEU president, and workers were very emotional when they voted to end it.

"This has been a really like a roller-coaster ride for everyone, including myself — but mostly the members."

Kirsty Wells, a Many Rivers client, says the strike was "really, really hard" on her. She was in counselling last fall to deal with depression, until the strike interrupted her therapy.

"It's good they were on strike — their needs need to be met, and I'm happy to hear they got all their demands met," she said.

"I am excited about that, and excited about going into treatment again." 

Pay raises, flexibility in scheduling

In a news release, the union says the workers' new 5-year contract includes a seven per cent pay raise over the life of the contract.

It also says the deal allows more flexibility "to respond to client scheduling needs" — something that was said to be a sticking point in contract negotiations. 

In December, counsellor and member of the union bargaining team Larissa Korns told CBC that flexibility would allow counsellors to go into work early to prepare for a client, or stay late to finish paperwork. 

The union says the new deal also means Many Rivers workers will have better access to their employee assistance program, and will be able to meet with specialist supervisors during work hours.

Some former clients held a rally earlier this month to show support for the striking workers. The goal was to pressure the Yukon government, which provides the bulk of Many Rivers' operating budget, to step in.

With files from Philippe Morin

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