City council declined to meet with executives from the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North, who invited them to discuss concerns amongst unionized city workers privately.
The invitation was made to councillors and Mayor Rebecca Alty on Feb. 15 and came from from Gayla Thunstrom, UNW president; Lorraine Rousseau, PSAC North regional executive vice president; and Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.
“We are appealing to you to show City of Yellowknife employees, who are also residents and taxpayers, that you (the City) value and respect them and are willing to hear what they have to say,” the three union executives stated in the invite.
An email written as a response to their request was made by Alty on behalf of council the following day declining the invite.
“At this time, it would not be appropriate or legal for council to meet with the union, as negotiations are ongoing,” she stated.
She explained that it is illegal for council to hold meetings in private when decisions are before the council.
“For example, if a developer has a housing application that needs council approval, council would not meet with that developer to discuss it in private,” she stated. “The same goes in this situation – this is a matter before council and we can’t be lobbied behind closed doors.”
She stated that council is well aware of the issues that employees and residents are facing.
“Yellowknife is a tight-knit and close community, and we all live here,” she said. “Every one of us on Council has family or friends who are employees of the City, and who are being impacted by the current collective bargaining process in one way or another.”
She also stated that she believes conversations would be most meaningful at the bargaining table and welcomed the opportunity to meet for a general discussion after bargaining concludes.
Thunstrom told Yellowknifer that it is not unprecedented for elected representatives to meet in the way they requested.
“For example, during bargaining with the GNWT, union executives often meet openly with MLAs to discuss issues and concerns,” she said.
Thunstrom said that she encourages the mayor and council to visit unionized city workers on the picket lines to hear the worker’s concerns directly.
Yellowknifer reached out to the mayor and council for comment but did not get a response before press deadline.
The invitation from the UNW to council is publicly available on their website and a copy of the response from the mayor was given to Yellowknifer from the city.