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Strike 'narrowly averted' for Yukon hospital workers after tentative deal reached

A strike was 'narrowly averted' after a tentative deal was reached after negotiations Thursday and Friday, according to a news release Saturday.

About 250 workers were ready to go on strike with 72 hours notice if deal not reached

The Watson Lake hospital is one of three hospitals operated by the publicly owned Yukon Hospital Corporation. Yukon hospital workers 'narrowly averted' going on strike after a tentative deal was reached following negotiations this week, according to a news release Saturday morning. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A strike was "narrowly averted" after a tentative deal was reached for Yukon's hospital workers following negotiations this week, according to a union news release Saturday morning.

The talks on Thursday and Friday were part of a fifth round of bargaining with the Yukon Hospital Corporation, this time with the help of a federal mediator.

"Two solid days of negotiations between the union and the employer have netted the deal which removes the immediate threat of a lockout or a strike," says the Yukon Employees' Union news release.

Roughly 250 employees at hospitals in Watson Lake, Dawson City and Whitehorse are represented by the Yukon Employees' Union and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The workers have been without a contract since August 2017.

Both parties were in a legal strike or lockout position, with only 72 hours' notice required to take job action, says the release.

We were comfortable from the commitment from the employer... It was a first time for us.- Paul Johnston, Vice president of Yukon Employees' Union

"The employer came to the table very committed to listening and addressing our concerns — so it was quite different from the previous rounds," said Yukon Employees' Union vice president Paul Johnston.

Johnston said the negotiations this week were "very respectful."

"We were comfortable from the commitment from the employer with respect to addressing workload issues, and it was a first time for us and that's why we have a tentative deal on the table," he said. The deal was reached about 6 p.m. Friday, he said.

Workers will vote on the tentative deal on March 4.

Matt Davidson, spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, said the corporation is happy a deal has been reached.

"We'd like to recognize the hard work by both bargaining teams. They worked hard through both Thursday and Friday," Davidson said.

He said he expects the hospital board will vote on the tentative deal before the end of February.

'Very strong' strike mandate

Workers at the hospitals returned a "very strong" strike mandate to their union after a vote earlier this month.

The union has maintained that its main issue in collective bargaining is workload. Yukon Employees' Union president Steve Geick said members are getting "burnt out" while the hospital corporation looks to offer more services without expanding staff.

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