You can count the Union of Northern Workers among those not thrilled with the GNWT’s decision to not offer compensation to those who drove out of the territory during the initial hours of the evacuation.
A letter signed by UNW president Gayla Thunstrom was circulated to the union’s membership on Wednesday. NNSL Media obtained a copy of the letter, which outlined her disappointment with how things played out.
She noted that residents of Yellowknife, Dettah, the Ingraham Trail, Ndilo, as well as evacuees from South Slave communities who were in Yellowknife, were given last minute direction through the evacuation order. There was no advance notice or alert, and no advance information or instruction on how an evacuation would proceed, and no ability to prepare.
Residents were asked by the GNWT to travel by car if they could so as not to take away seats on evacuation flights from those who needed to fly out.
Thunstrom stated that there are many situations in which residents will need assistance — practically and financially — to return to their home communities, even if they scrambled to obtain a ride out by road.
“Residents car pooled and, upon reaching destinations, separated to stay with friends or relatives, go to evacuation centres to get accommodation assistance, etc.,” she wrote. “Many may not be able to reunite to car pool on the return, and will require a flight home.”
Jennifer Young, director of corporate affairs for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said in a press conference Monday evening that those who drove out on their own would be expected to make their way back on their own with no help from the GNWT.
Thunstrom wrote that it wasn’t only those who drove that would be facing hardships in returning — she stated that those who flew on a scheduled flight would be affected and those who evacuated Hay River and Fort Smith would have depleted any savings or cash reserves by now.
“There are many UNW members who are in these or similar situations,” she added. “Union members are historically better paid and have better benefits than non-unionized workers — so if my members are desperately struggling financially and need the support of their government, I can only imagine the critical predicament of other residents.”
Thunstrom closed the letter by asking mayors, councils and Indigenous governments to persuade the GNWT to change its mind.