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OPPORTUNITIES NORTH: Unions make gains as city workers, federal employees strike deals

The Union of Northern Workers (UNW), the largest union in the Northwest Territories, represents approximately 7,000 public, private, and non-profit sector members with 30 employers in territory.
City of Yellowknife workers went on a strike in February that lasted five weeks. NNSL file photo

The Union of Northern Workers (UNW), the largest union in the Northwest Territories, represents approximately 7,000 public, private, and non-profit sector members with 30 employers in territory.

The union also serves Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission employees in Nunavut, who fall under the GNWT bargaining unit.

The UNW, alongside it affiliate union the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), was front and centre during a strike by close to 200 City of Yellowknife staff members that lasted from Feb. 8 to March 17. The Multiplex, Fieldhouse, swimming pool, Yellowknife Community Arena, library and visitor information centre were among the facilities temporarily shut down during the work stoppage.

The city employees — part of UNW Local 345 — agreed to retroactive wage increases of three per cent going back to Jan. 1, 2022, and a 2.75 per cent increase dated back to Jan. 1, 2023, for a compounded 5.83 per cent. There was also a signing bonus of $1,800 to each permanent full-time, term and casual full-time employee, $850 to each permanent part-time employee and seasonal employee and $300 to each casual part-time employee.

Without an updated collective agreement since the end of 2021, talks between the union and the city broke down in November 2022, leading up to job action in February after a strike vote was held.

The terms of the new agreement won’t last much longer as they’re set to expire at the end of 2023.

Federal workers walk out

PSAC flags were flying on picket lines again a month later as close to 600 Northern federal workers joined nearly 155,000 of their Government of Canada colleagues in going on strike as of April 19, which lasted until the first week of May.

Treasury Board and Canada Revenue Agency staff accepted a 12.6 per cent compounded wage increase over four years, retroactive to 2021, and a one-time pensionable payment of $2,500. Their last raise had come in June of 2020.

Based on an average Treasury Board worker’s salary of $67,305, the wage increase will result in an additional $23,000 over the four-year period, PSAC told its membership. It will also raise the average salary to $75,777 in 2024, according to the union.

AVENS labour dispute

AVENS, which operates seniors residences in Yellowknife, was still trying to negotiate an agreement with its unionized workers in April, and the conciliation process, led by a third party, wasn’t enough to break the deadlock.

The last collective agreement between AVENS and the Union of Northern Workers Local 25 expired on March 31, 2022. That agreement remains in effect until a new agreement is reached or if there is either a strike or lockout.

The UNW posted an update online on May 15 reading: “The union and the employer met with a mediator last week to mediate some complaints that had been filed with the labour board by the employer. In doing so, we also tried to come to a new tentative agreement with the assistance of the mediator. While the talks did not conclude in a new agreement, more dates are being scheduled. Once the dates have been finalized, we will provide an update.”

Power Corp negotiations in the offing

On April 2, the UNW served notice to its unionized workers with the NWT Power Corporation (NTPC) that their collective agreement with NTPC expired on Dec. 31, 2022. The union was seeking delegates for a bargaining conference prior to commencing negotiations.

On March 1, UNW members in Fort Smith endorsed the tentative agreement reached with the Town of Fort Smith on Feb. 17.

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About the Author: Derek Neary

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