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Councillors respond to ‘letter of intimidation’ from unions

The three city councillors at the centre of a letter sent by the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North on Tuesday have responded.
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Coun. Ben Hendriksen authored a joint response on behalf of himself and fellow councillors Steve Payne and Rob Warburton late Tuesday afternoon to a letter sent earlier in the day by the Union of Northern Workers and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The letter was addressed to the three due to their membership in the UNW and outlined their “obligations” during any strike action. Photo courtesy of Ben Hendriksen

The three city councillors at the centre of a letter sent by the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) North on Tuesday have responded.

Councillors Ben Hendriksen, Steve Payne and Rob Warburton — all union members — were the recipients of a communique signed by UNW president Gayla Thunstrom and PSAC North executive vice-president Lorraine Rousseau. It outlined what’s expected of the trio of councillors if picket lines are erected.

The letter communicated that under both organizations’ bylaws and constitutions, it is an offence for a member to “engage in any conduct prejudicial to the good order and welfare of the union.”

The correspondence outlines UNW bylaw 16 relating to discipline, which refers to disciplinary measures for members who “participate in contract negotiations representing management across the table from the union.”

The letter also states that it’s a basic union tenet to “respect all picket lines.”

“In addition to this, UNW members are governed by the PSAC constitution and regulations and UNW bylaws and regulations.”

The correspondence ends with Thunstrom and Rousseau stating that they hope all three councillors will support their fellow union members “as they would support you.”

“We urge you to show respect for these fellow union members and do not cross picket lines, and in fact show your support however you are able,” the letter states.

Hendriksen wrote a response late Tuesday afternoon on behalf of the trio, saying that they were still hopeful that negotiations could avoid a work stoppage. A general strike is set to begin Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.

Hendriksen’s letter pointed out that while all three are members of the UNW through their employment and respect the right to work action, they were elected to serve all Yellowknifers.

“We are not UNW members employed by the city and with that, we must balance these responsibilities,” the letter reads. “We know the UNW may not see things this way, but it is unfortunate that they have decided to publicly pit their own members against one another. We as councillors are all confident in our ability to perform our elected roles objectively despite the perceptions of others.”

The letter also indicated that it was “disheartening as UNW members” that Thunstrom and Rousseau decided to publicly post what the three councillors felt was a “letter of intimidation” without trying to speak with them beforehand.

“In our role as councillors, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the city and would be unable to uphold that responsibility while abiding by all the demands the union has laid out in their communication,” stated the letter. “As publicly elected representatives of the city, it would be a breach of our elected duties to follow in that action. For ourselves, we have an elected duty to Yellowknifers that we intend to fulfill.”