Union, gov't blame each other as strike looms

The Union of Northern Workers bargaining team announced over the weekend that it’s starting to train Northwest Territories government workers to strike after a failed attempt at mediation.

Government discloses proposals offered during failed weekend mediation

Minister of Finance, Robert C. McLeod (Michael Hugall/CBC)

The N.W.T. government responded to a news release issued by the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) on Saturday, saying it is "disappointed" with the union's statements about its position. 

An update posted to the government's website on Monday stated the union "misrepresented" the government's financial situation by suggesting the government doesn't provide its employees with a living wage and claiming employees are being asked to "subsidize infrastructure investments."

"The average UNW member earns more than $96,000 annually (including Northern Allowance) and receives 41 days of paid leave each year (excluding any sick or special leave)," stated the update.   

The government stated it is in "challenging fiscal times" which has seen its revenue decrease by $84 million over the past three years. 

The two sides ended mediation a day early on Saturday evening. In the update the government made public five points proposed to union workers.

Gov't proposals for UNW

The update lists five "major components" which were offered to union workers: 

  • A five year collective agreement that provided no salary change in the first two years of the agreement, followed by salary increases for the next three years that would provide UNW employees approximately $36 million in additional compensation and benefits. The government would not provide an exact percentage per-year amount.
  • An increase in the Northern Allowance that would provide UNW employees approximately $4 million in additional benefits over the final three years of the agreement.
  • Proposals to address UNW concerns over relief employees and term employees and a commitment to a joint study on casual, relief and term employment.
  • Improvements to layoff procedures.
  • Proposals to improve medical travel and provide additional leave to support survivors of domestic violence, a commitment to implement the national standard related to mental health in the workplace, and extended parental leave.

A spokeswoman for cabinet communications said Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod would not participate in an interview with CBC News, referring reporters to the same statement issued by the department for information. 

She said that the government is "not bargaining through the media" when she explained why he would not be made available. 

"The [N.W.T. government] continues to be prepared to meet with the union at any time, with or without the mediator, to reach a collective agreement," stated the update. 

Strike mediator Vince Ready was in mediation with the N.W.T. government last week. According to a news release from the union, he adjourned those talks "late in the day" on Oct. 26 "when it became clear that the parties are still far apart."

Union prepared to strike 

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons says his workers could strike as early as mid-November if a deal can't be reached.

The union has already started training workers in Hay River to strike, and the release asks members to check the union's website for updates to the strike training schedule.

"All will take place in many communities ASAP," states the release.

The Union of Northern Workers represents about 4,000 government employees.

The union's been without a collective bargaining agreement since 2016. The union is asking for three-per-cent wage increases every year for a period of three years.

The territorial government has responded to that request with a proposal to keep wages the same for a period of two years, followed by a one-per-cent increase in year three and a 1.1-per-cent increase in year four.

The union and territorial government are waiting for Ready to deliver a final report on last week's negotiations. If the union and territorial government remain deadlocked, union president Todd Parsons has said there will be a strike.


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