Members call for change in UNW leadership, others applaud executives

Weeks of a tense labour dispute between the Union of Northern Workers and the government of the Northwest Territories has union members divided on the conduct and future of the UNW’s leadership.

Strike averted early Sunday when both sides agreed to accept binding recommendations from mediator

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons addresses the media at a press conference last week in Yellowknife. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Weeks of a tense labour dispute between the Union of Northern Workers and the government of the Northwest Territories has union members divided on the conduct and future of the UNW's leadership.

A strike was averted early Sunday when both sides announced they had agreed to accept binding recommendations from mediator Vince Ready. The union had said its members would strike Monday at 12:01 a.m. if no agreement had been reached.

Ready imposed a "media blackout" while he prepares his recommendations. As a result, both the UNW and territorial government are not answering any questions or providing comment to the CBC.

'It's appalling'

Some members say the way the union's leadership handled the labour dispute has them calling for change while others are commending the UNW's executive.

"I'm really disappointed with my union leadership," union member Megan Holsapple told CBC.

"When I pass the homeless people in Yellowknife, when I go to court and I watch victims sobbing, I know that we need far more investment in our public services.

"It's so upsetting to me to see that the UNW executive was ready to pull the services to the most vulnerable people in the North and put us out on the picket lines as the human face of cutting public services. It's so upsetting. It's appalling."

Former Local 1 president, Brad Enge said he disagreed with the way the strike mandate was handled, beginning with the strike vote itself.

A group of union protesters crashed Premier Bob McLeod's constituency meeting last week. McLeod released a statement saying the stunt was 'not part of a lawful picket.' (John Last/CBC)

"The union was very secretive. They conducted what I felt was a very unethical strike vote back in March and April of 2018. They kept the results secret from us and away from the membership as a whole so we don't know how many people participated," Enge said.

"So the authenticity and the accuracy of the strike vote that the union was relying on was shielded."

Enge criticized the way the union communicated with its members the days leading up to the possible strike action. He said he received more information from his employer than his union representatives.

Enge said he was prepared to cross the picket line and continue to work if both sides didn't come to a resolution.

Union worked 'very, very hard' 

Other union members told CBC they are proud of the way the UNW executive handled the recent rounds of mediation.

"I've worked quite closely with some of the union members and the executive and I know they were working very, very hard to get an agreement," member Bridget O'Keefe said.

Union of Northern Workers members take part in a 'practice picket' in Yellowknife earlier this year. The union held several events like this over the winter months in preparation for a strike. (Mario de Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"You know [the union] started from [a three per cent wage increase]. That's a negotiation tactic. I don't think anybody is really expecting three. But when you see [an] MLA is giving themselves raises based on the consumer price index, I feel that the members feel that they deserve that as well."

O'Keefe said more union members need to educate themselves and get involved if they are going to criticize the UNW executive. She once served on the executive and often went to union meetings where there wasn't a good turn out of members.

It's time to move forward, carry on with our lives, and accept the decisions by Mr. Ready.- Jan Vallillee, union member

"So people need to get out and exercise their right to vote and speak out before things get to this point."

One thing all of the members CBC spoke with agreed on was that they were glad the strike action was called down and that they would be going to work this week.

"I appreciate the long hours both sides dedicated to resolving issues and bridging some of the gaps," member Jan Vallillee said.

"It's time to move forward, carry on with our lives, and accept the decisions by Mr. Ready."

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