“I’m going to say this very clearly, I want to see a deal and I want to see people treated fairly, and that’s not been happening.”

That’s the message from new Nunavut Employees Union (NEU) president Jason Rochon to MLA candidates across Nunavut.

“I think change is always good. Getting fresh perspectives a great thing,” he said following a three-year stalemate with the Government of Nunavut in achieving a new collective agreement.

Like the next batch of MLAs, who will be elected on Oct. 25, Rochon was chosen as the union’s new leader during the NEU’s convention on Oct. 7. He succeeds Bill Fennell, who was at the helm over the past seven years.

If there’s no indication of negotiations progress in the near future, Rochon said he won’t hesitate to call a strike vote.

“Whatever our members want, I’ll be there with them,” he said.

A former student support assistant at Joamie School in Iqaluit, Rochon describes the lack of a deal over the past three years as “absolutely unacceptable.”

“We’d been bargaining in good faith with the government in hopes of reaching a collective agreement, and then the government engaged in bad-faith bargaining, forcing us to take them to court,” he said. “I feel like they should know better, so they should be doing better… so it’s time for them to make some improvements.

“They can talk all they want about getting back to the bargaining table but unless they’re going to actually follow that up with some action, there’s no reason to sit there and listen to them conduct themselves in the way that they’ve treated our members in the last three years.”

The NEU will equip its approximately 5,000 members with information, email addresses and draft letters to send to the MLA candidates of their choice to reinforce how essential a new collective agreement is to them, according to Rochon.

A member of the NEU for 16 years and a former 2nd vice-president and secretary for the organization, Rochon said the NEU’s membership deserves credit for repeatedly bringing Covid-19 cases back to zero in the territory.

Other objectives he has in mind for his two-year term as president include ensuring that job postings make clear how to access support for mental health and well-being and that domestic violence leave is paid.

GN sought return to bargaining: official

Fennell, while still NEU president, insisted that the union made an effort to resume bargaining but was rebuffed by the GN.

“I went to the assistant deputy minister, who is the lead GN employee on the bargaining team, and I asked him to go back to the table, and he refused, saying that they have nothing more to offer,” said Fennell. “So it was actually the GN refusing to bargain, despite what the minister said… It’s out there that the union did nothing after the minister invited us back to the table, and that’s not true, and that pisses me off. And I was told no, that it was up to us to change our position, and we can’t accept what they’re offering.”

Grant McMichael, assistant deputy minister of operations with the Department of Human Resources, provided a different version of events.

“We do not negotiate in public but given the NEU’s statement, we can confirm that we proactively provided a without-prejudice offer to the NEU since the time they have taken legal action and the NEU rejected that offer without meeting with the GN,” said McMichael. “Subsequently, the GN has stated and continues to state we are open to meet for negotiations and look forward to a positive response by the NEU. At no time has the GN refused to go to the table and would welcome the opportunity to do so.”

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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