Rommel Silverio, a hospital patient care coordinator and MLA candidate in Kam Lake, expressed disappointment this week that his union’s president is supporting incumbent Kieron Testart even after being on the front lines of a near territorial-wide strike last winter.
Silverio said he had no problem supporting the Union of Northern Workers when they asked members to don orange T-shirts and demonstrate as hospital employees against the GNWT during the buildup to a near strike.
“I know that the union would like to pick candidates that are friendly to them and advance their agenda,” Silverio said. “I don’t have an issue with that. You need to leverage and get things going and I understand and believe that.”
Silverio said he was upset, however, when UNW president Todd Parsons appeared at an all-candidates forum at NJ Macpherson School wearing a Kieron Testart button.
Silverio said he, his sister Vivian-Lei, a registered nurse, brother Eric, who works in intensive care, and Eric’s wife Sandra Silverio, a registered nurse had hoped to have received the same support from the union.
Silverio said the best option, particularly in Kam Lake, is for the union to remain neutral.
“We are members of UNW local 11 and when we were on the verge of striking we got prepared and we became strike captains,” Rommel said. “We wanted to be a part of the strike so we could get behind GNWT employees.”
Sister Vivian-Lei reiterated the same point in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon.
“It has disheartened me because I truly supported the UNW on the front lines (of the strike),” she said. “I even committed, as an essential worker, 10 per cent of my income when going for a strike for non-essential workers. That is how sincere we were in serving them.”
UNW president Todd Parsons said in an interview Thursday, that the union does not officially endorse candidates.
He said this is mostly due to the union wanting to have the ability to work with any candidates who might get elected. He also pointed out that about 30 per cent of current election candidates are either current or recent union members.
“I can tell you the UNW does not have a policy directing the organization or its membership on how to choose support for candidates putting their names forth as MLA,” he said. “We have no policy written or otherwise.
“I can tell you that the UNW is not endorsing any particular candidate anywhere in the NWT.”
However, Parsons said it’s his personal choice, as a resident of Kam Lake, to “openly” support Testart.
This is partly due to Testart’s record of supporting labour and a personal commitment made to the incumbent before the election started, Parsons said.
“It was not an easy decision but I said to Kieron well before the election process that I would support him because of the efforts he has made on behalf of the membership of the UNW,” Parsons said.
“He tries to fight for the labour perspective and he recognizes the impact it has on businesses and the impacts on government.
“I had made a commitment earlier in the process of which I am committed.”
Parsons said he wants to make a point of showing his support to members who have been asking where his personal support lies and did not want to hide it.
He said he recognizes the efforts that the Silverios have put into supporting the union in the past and welcomes the opportunity to work with Rommel if he wins.
“I know that Rommel and Vivian are strong, staunch union supporters and some of my best activists that are representing members on behalf of the membership and the UNW,” he said. “I am proud that they are the activists that they are and that they are people you can count on at rallies to take on responsibilities.”
Parsons said he has not faced a situation where he needed to personally decide in an electoral district – federally or territorially- between a strong union supporter and a labour-friendly incumbent MLA.
“He may feel slighted that I am supporting Kieron who has also been an activist who supported the union in times of need. It is hard to make a decision on which candidate I wanted to support. Had this been a different situation and I was living in a different riding and Rommel was running in that riding, he might very well have had my open support publicly.”