When the Union of Northern Workers (UNW)/Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members of Local 345 took the brave step of standing up to the City of Yellowknife to demand fair wages, they joined a growing movement of workers across Canada and the world who are fed up with being disrespected and undervalued for the work they do.
During the City of Yellowknife strike/lockout, we saw support roll in from the labour movement here in the NWT and across Canada. Nationally, we saw this happen last fall, as unionized workers from across the country rallied to support CUPE education workers in their fight against the Ontario government, and it was inspiring to see it happen again here at home.
These demonstrations of collective strength made it clear that these workers would not be bullied into a bad deal, and it sent a message to all employers that workers are willing to fight for themselves and each other.
The labour movement in Canada is gaining ground, and we are proud that the UNW is playing a part in its success. Since the Covid-19 pandemic forced us all to rethink how we work, there has been a huge shift in how society perceives the value of that work and the people who do it.
Now employers are scrambling to recruit and retain workers who are no longer buying into the idea that they are an expendable resource. Workers are also waking up to their collective power and are using it.
Right now in Nunavut, workers from Iqaluit Housing represented by the Nunavut Employees Union (a fellow northern component of the PSAC who supported our members at City of Yellowknife) are currently on strike. Their stressful situation is being aggravated by the employer’s shameful decision to bring in replacement workers.
Canada’s National Women’s Soccer team has also been making news lately. Represented by the International Federation of Professional Football Associations (FIFPro), Team Canada’s players have taken their own fight for pay equity to the world stage, kickstarting a larger movement toward equity in professional sports.
Across the pond, healthcare workers from nearly every sector of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service have been on a rotating strike since last December over poor working conditions and inadequate wage increases. According to the Royal College of Nursing, the union that represents nurses in the UK, this is the first time in its 106-year history that the union’s members have voted to strike.
Job action is the only way unionized workers can effect change when employers refuse to play nice. In a perfect world, employers would naturally want to do right by their workers; unfortunately, this is not the case and has been getting worse and worse.
Of course, the larger the bargaining unit, the greater the impact a strike can have, resulting in more leverage for workers. This is one reason why here in the NWT, most territorial public service workers fall under the same unit, regardless of their profession or sector.
And while having a large bargaining unit is certainly helpful, it’s just as important for others to stand with workers when they are facing challenges from the employer.
During the City of Yellowknife strike/lockout, Local 345 members were inspired and encouraged by the thousands of unionized workers from across the country who showed their support through donations, public messages and even their physical presence.
Union members stood up for each other, knowing that one day, they may need others to stand up for them. As the old saying goes, “The people united will never be defeated.” Whether your bargaining unit has five members or five thousand, we are all in this together.
As more of our bargaining units move through various stages of collective bargaining this year, let’s keep up the good work. Let’s remind employers across the NWT and beyond that we are not afraid to stand up for our rights, and we care about and will gladly stand up for others.
When we rise as one, we lift everybody up.