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GNWT fires back at union

The GNWT said it is "disappointed" with the UNW's response after negotiation talks stalled on Friday. NNSL file photo

After years of failed negotiations with the GNWT, the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) – representing almost 4,000 GNWT workers – revealed this week 70 per cent of them are in favour of a strike.

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, speaks to protesters outside the legislative assembly in March. The union representing GNWT employees is demanding wage increases and enhanced job security for its members.
Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo

In a response to the strike vote news on Tuesday, the GNWT issued a statement outlining its concerns over the union's position.

“We continue to be concerned with the UNW’s misleading summary of the GNWT’s current fiscal situation,” stated Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod in a news release Wednesday.

“Our challenge remains balancing all of our competing priorities during an unprecedented period of stagnant revenues while being fiscally responsible,” he said.

“As we continue bargaining to ensure we are providing competitive compensation and benefits to our employees, McLeod said.

The GNWT is “pleased” they will return to the bargaining table, likely with a mediator, stated the release.

Voting members rejected the employer's offer of a zero per cent wage increase for the first two years, a one per cent increase in the third year and a 1.1 per cent increase in the fourth year.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of this vote,” said Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW). “Our members have articulated that they are not interested in the current offer.”

The union will exhaust all of its options under the Public Service Act to come to an agreement and avoid a work stoppage, said Parson.

The union is pushing for a three per cent yearly wage increase for the period of 2016 to 2018, Northern allowance improvements, reduced casual and precarious employment, full-time indeterminate work and mental health supports for public service employees.

The employer, the GNWT, “remains committed to reaching a collective agreement that meets the interests of all parties, and is pleased to also understand that the UNW intends to return to the bargaining table, perhaps with the assistance of a mediator,” it said in a news release Wednesday.

The union is using the strike as a bargaining tool, as it works to negotiate yearly salary increases that pace with increasing costs of living.

The last GNWT proposal for collective bargaining with the union states that the employer has not moved its position “due to significant and ongoing fiscal challenges facing the NWT.”

In the 2015 fiscal year, the GNWT expended $401 million on UNW employees’ compensation and benefits.

The estimated cost of the UNW's monetary proposals as of Sept. 27, 2017 would cost the GNWT $14.2-million dollars for the 2016 and 2017 fiscal year.

The GNWT is working to finalize a collective agreement to avert job action, but is preparing for the possibility of a strike if negotiations sour and both parties have exhausted all legal avenues.

The GNWT is balancing worker compensation and benefits with its many priorities, including education, health care, programs for seniors and vulnerable residents, training and economic opportunities, the environment and infrastructure, the news release states.

This is the first strike mandate achieved in the 50 years existence of the union bargaining unit.