'They should be ashamed of themselves,' UNW members blast union

One worker says the Union of Northern Workers' claims about public servants wanting more money is 'completely out of touch.' About 4,000 government workers could strike as early as Monday.

Union says crossing picket line could result in fines, revoked membership

UNW employees in a 'practice picket' in Yellowknife earlier this year. A union representative says if employees cross the picket line they could be fined and/or have their memberships revoked. (Mario de Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Several members of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) have told CBC they do not support a potential strike, calling the union's actions "reprehensible," "disgusting" and "out of touch" with what members want.

Earlier this week, the union representing N.W.T. government employees said it will strike as of Monday if an agreement is not reached in mediations with the territorial government this weekend over a new collective agreement. The strike would impact about 4,000 unionized employees, from school custodians to policy analysts.

One government worker called the potential strike "morally reprehensible."

"The government does not have money for the requested raises. Any additional money should be put into enhancing our public services, not into increasing payments to the most well-paid people of the territory."

CBC News agreed to protect the worker's identity because they fear retribution from the union.

"The claims made by my union leadership about public servants wanting more money are completely out of touch with the things I hear from the dedicated hard working public servants that I work with every day," said the worker.

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons addressed the media about a potential strike at a press conference Tuesday in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The government employee said they worry increasing salaries could result in cuts to government programs and services.

"They should be ashamed of themselves," they said of the union.

Fines for crossing picket line

The UNW says in the event of a strike, members who cross the picket line could be kicked out of the union and face fines.

"If members cross a picket line, they can be subject to investigation [and] fined upwards to a day's pay for each day that they cross a picket line," said Frank Walsh, president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) Local 11.

Walsh said the union is using the constitution of the Public Service Alliance of Canada — the union for federal government workers, of which UNW is a part — as a guide.

Under the Public Service Alliance constitution, members can be fined up to the equivalent of a day's pay from their employer for each day they cross the picket line.

Walsh said the union will not be hunting down people who cross the picket line, but, "if I received a complaint, for example, from Joe Picketter that Joe Employee crossed the picket line, we would be obligated to investigate it."

'We're all coming to work Monday'

Another worker, who CBC agreed not to name because they fear they'll lose their job, says both sides are acting like "kindergarten kids" and they plan to cross the picket line regardless of the threats.

"Some of the tactics by my own union lately have been disgraceful and embarrassing," the worker said.

"The last straw for me was the union going to the premier's constituency meeting and disrupting that."

Dozens of union members crashed Bob McLeod's meeting earlier this week and erupted in protest. 

The worker said they work outside of Yellowknife and everyone at their office is against striking and intends to cross the picket line if they have to.

If the union wants to attempt to fine me, then go for it.- Anonymous government employee

"We're all coming to work Monday morning at 8:30. Every single one of us. I think that the sentiment is very widespread," the employee said.

"And if the union wants to attempt to fine me, then go for it."

The worker said employees are the ones that will suffer if the strike goes ahead, not the upper echelon of the union.

"It's not just us. It flows through our whole community. Our spouses are stressed, our kids hear about it, obviously the local businesses will be affected by a strike."

The union has called on the government to agree to binding arbitration  — where a mediator makes the final decision —ahead of this weekend's negotiations.

The employee said they are praying that a motion by MLA Julie Green to force the two sides into binding arbitration works and everyone can get back to normal.

On Thursday morning Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod stopped short of supporting binding arbitration, but told CBC he's optimistic about this weekend's mediation.

Premier McLeod declined an interview with CBC on Thursday.

1,900 essential workers

Approximately 1,900 people have been deemed essential and/or emergency employees, according to Todd Sasaki, a spokesperson for the Department of Finance.

He said employees deemed as essential or emergency are allowed to participate in a legal strike when they are not scheduled to work.

Frank Walsh, UNW Local 11 president, says as soon as members go on strike, they are no longer protected by the collective agreement. (Walter Strong/CBC)

According to the UNW website, members in good standing are eligible for strike pay. Strike pay is $117 a day for four hours a day on the picket line or doing another strike-related activity.

Not all unionized government employees are "members" of the union. Employees can voluntarily join the union by filling out a union card. Membership gives employees the right to run for union office and vote in union elections.

All unionized employees are, however, part of the bargaining unit under the Public Services Act, and pay union dues. This also means their grievances are represented by the union.

Union members can lose their membership for crossing a picket line, but they cannot be ejected from the bargaining unit.

These members could also have their union membership revoked, meaning they wouldn't be able to run for office in the union and couldn't vote in union elections or in strike votes.

Walsh, with the UNW, said as soon as members go on strike, they are no longer protected by the collective agreement.


  • A previous version of this story said the union wouldn't necessarily help a non-member fight a grievance. This was incorrect. The union is obligated to help all unionized workers fight grievances.
    Feb 07, 2019 2:14 PM CT

With files from Michael Hugall and Loren McGinnis


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