Almost two weeks ago, the Public Service Alliance of Canada turned down a suggestion from the city to move into binding arbitration. Of course, arbitration is the best route to break the impasse but the union said no because the city tried to negotiate through the media instead of consulting with the PSAC first.
The union is right about that. In fact, the city choosing to bypass the union and approach and influence through the media was not only unprofessional but could be seen as an attempt to bully workers and manipulate the public using the press as its tool.
This was not a wise move.
To begin, the media is not a spokesperson for any agency — something both levels of government here have been known to forget. That is what communication staff who are on the government’s payrolls do. Good journalists, on the other hand, try to be objective gathering information from all sides and presenting that to the public in a way that makes interpreting events easier.
Engaging media without consulting the other side could be considered coercive and disrespectful.
In the meantime, March break is almost upon us which means that hundreds of students will be on school break and looking for something to do. With the swimming pool, ice hockey rinks and field house closed, they will have to stay home again or brave some of the cold temperatures we’ve been experiencing. The virus that kept them in lockdown for the past two years has simply taken another form called strike action. This may be hard to explain to kids who have been itching to develop their athletic skills for what, to them, must seem like an eternity. Already parents are driving kids to other communities for ice time.
Some families paid well in advance to enrol kids in programs at city facilities for the break. This money will be lost if the strike is not resolved. That will certainly cause some anger and resentment. Other people may have to find childcare services in a city which is sadly lacking in that already.
This strike is not just hurting workers, it is seriously affecting the very people who pay staff and administrative wages. It is safe to say that public patience and empathy will be in short supply if an agreement is not reached soon.
The city strike is no longer strictly a reduced service issue — it is a mental health one too. The territorial government, already dealing with a mental health crisis, is likely concerned and keeping a close eye on this situation — we hope. Let’s give some thought to collateral damage and ask ourselves if it’s worth it.
We know our youth have been struggling after navigating COVID-caused isolation. And just after programs and facilities reopen, they are forced into another kind of separation from the people and activities they need for their physical and mental health. This is not the kind of example we need to see in a city who likes to boast about its community spirit.
The people of Yellowknife need the city and the union to sit down in a conciliatory fashion and hammer out a deal. If they need an arbitrator, it’s time to get one. The toll this strike is having on everyone is increasing daily and will skyrocket in the next week. Let’s think about the kids.
The city, and its workers should remember that when the strike is over, they will have to work side by side again. Avoiding a toxic work environment, that can only impact the public, will depend on negotiations handled in a respectful manner. What happens now will colour the atmosphere that follows.
As a community, we try to be in this together and anything done at the civic level will have a trickle-down effect. We deal with some of the harshest conditions in the world and we all need to act in a caring and concerned way. It’s time to set a more positive tone and end this strike.
We’ve been through enough in the past few years. Let’s get on with creating more good things in our community’s life.