City of Yellowknife asks court to limit strike action following alleged delays at dump, aquatic centre

The City of Yellowknife is applying to the N.W.T. Supreme Court for an injunction limiting how much striking workers can interfere with staff and non-unionized workers entering and exiting city facilities.

Strikers are now delaying vehicles entering city facilities by up to 45 minutes, city alleges

People in warm clothing, snow, construction site.
Strikers on the picket line in front of the construction site for the new aquatic centre. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The City of Yellowknife is applying to the N.W.T. Supreme Court for an injunction limiting how much striking workers can interfere with staff and non-unionized workers entering and exiting city facilities.

In a court filing on Tuesday, the city alleges that striking workers have delayed commercial vehicles entering the dump for up to an hour, delayed vehicles entering or leaving the construction site of the new aquatic centre by up to 15 minutes each way, and parked their vehicles at the building site so that only one vehicle can enter or exit at a time.

Workers set up picket lines Feb. 8 after their Union of Northern Workers local and the city failed to reach a new collective agreement. The current agreement expired a year ago. The sides appear to still be far apart, with wages being the main issue.

The city is offering workers a two per cent increase retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022 and another two per cent increase retroactive to Jan. 1 2023. An internal union memo CBC obtained last week indicated that workers are looking for a five per cent increase for 2022 and a three per cent increase this year.

City says strike action 'escalating'

In one of several affidavits filed in support of the injunction, the city's director of economic development, Kerry Thistle, says "the picketers' blocking of access appears to be escalating. Initially vehicles were being delayed approximately five minutes. On Feb. 12, 2023 vehicles were being delayed in excess of 45 minutes."

The city is asking the courts to order that strikers can only delay vehicles coming and going to city facilities for a maximum of 10 minutes. It is also asking for a limit of six picketers to each city entrance at a time.

The city also included an email from a subcontractor working on the aquatic centre, detailing his experience trying to cross the picket line to get to the construction site on Monday morning. The worker said he parked his truck across the street, thinking he would get less of a hassle if he walked the rest of the way. 

"They had somebody filming the entire encounter, they made a point to threaten that crossing the line would somehow impact the company's future work with the city," wrote the worker. "Also threatened or insinuated that I might have ended up on the news in my company truck trying to cross the line."

The city says the general contractor overseeing construction of the aquatic centre has advised the city that it is recording all delays and will be billing the city for the delays.

In another affidavit, Public Works director Chris Greencorn said that on Monday, he spoke with strike captain Bassel Sleem at the city dump about trucks being delayed by about 40 minutes coming into and leaving the dump.

"I advised that 10 or 15 minutes was a reasonable expectation and asked him to let vehicles through after that time," wrote Greencorn. "He replied that he could hold the trucks for an hour if he wished."

Greencorn estimated that a 15-minute delay each way for garbage trucks would result in an approximately 25 per cent reduction in residential garbage pickup. 

The city is asking that the application be heard in court as soon as possible or by Friday.

Union calls job action peaceful, legal

Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, told CBC News the injunction request amounts to an attempted infringement of the rights of workers to be on the picket line.

"On Feb. 8 the employer locked out the bargaining unit members," Rousseau said. "Now they're attempting to use the courts to mitigate the practical and financial consequences of its own action."

The city did lock out union bargaining members on Feb. 8, but only after those workers went on strike at midnight. 

Rousseau said the city's "heavy-handed approach" is aimed at unfairly intimidating striking union members who are only exercising their rights to assemble.

"Our members, they're residents, they're taxpayers of Yellowknife," she said. "They want to get back to the bargaining table ... they want to go back to work."

Rousseau did not deny the allegations described in the court documents, but said the union's tactics were necessary and legal.

"We want to be heard. We're not doing anything illegal. We're being very peaceful ... We're well within our rights to demonstrate peacefully," Rousseau said.

Rousseau said the union's legal team would now consider its response to the injunction, but that it will respect the court's eventual ruling.


Richard Gleeson is a reporter for CBC in Yellowknife. He covers a wide variety of issues, including politics, the justice system and the environment.

With files from Hilary Bird