Not all people leaving a Union of Northern Workers’ annual general meeting Monday were happy with the direction union leadership is taking in negotiating a new contract for territorial government workers.
The union is holding AGMs for its locals over the next few weeks with Local 1’s taking place Monday.
As members filed out of the lunchtime meeting, there were many members sporting bright orange union support flags, bags and buttons. However, others didn’t share the same enthusiasm for their bargaining team.
“My issue is there’s no transparency. so we don’t know how many people voted. We keep hearing there’s a 70 per cent strike mandate but we know that not 100 per cent, or 80 per cent, or even 60 and I doubt that 40 per cent of the people voted, so what does that mean?” asked Karen Willy, a union member working in education.
Willy was referring to a strike vote that took place over the summer. The union said it received 70 per cent approval for a strike, but it has never released the number of members that voted.
“I got answers that made me feel worse, because some of us asked specifically for the strike vote information and were told no, and we pay these people’s salaries, quite frankly, with our union dues,” said Willy. “They keep quoting democracy, and they don’t understand democracy because they’re not transparent with their information.”
Todd Parsons, president of the union, responded to Willy’s claims in an email.
“The bargaining team reviewed all the results and considered all the details when making their decision whether to continue fighting for a fair deal.” stated Parsons. “Their decision not to release the specific information to the public has not changed. However, we have provided more information to members at union meetings if they ask.”
While Willy voiced issues with the bargaining team, she admitted the room appeared to be 50/50 in terms of support for the union.
Chris – a union member who did not provide his full name, citing the sensitive nature of strike talks – said he supports the UNW and blames the government for stalled negotiations.
“The understanding that I have is that it’s been basically just (the government) dumps a document on the table saying, ‘This is our position,’ and (the union is) left to read it and it’s like, ‘No, no, no’ without really sitting down,” he said while leaving the meeting. “The union says, ‘Oh, we want this, this and this,’ but what they really want is they want to talk. They want some back and forth so they can come to a negotiation.”
The union and GNWT held mediated talks that shut down in early October after mediator Vince Ready decided the two parties were still too far apart. The union stated in a news release last week that it had received a mediator’s report that recommended additional mediated talks, which the UNW said it’s prepared to do.
The union’s Local 1 comprises the majority of GNWT employees based in Yellowknife. A number of departments that involve shift work, such as Stanton Territorial Hospital, Public Works and the Department of justice are part of a separate local.
Overall, the union represents close to 4,000 GNWT employees who have been working without a collective bargaining agreement for more than two years.
Previously, the union demanded an annual three per cent salary increase. The government countered with zero, zero, one and 1.1 per cent over four years.
Both the government and the union had been making preparations for a work stoppage last month before the mediated talks took place. The union stated it would wait until after Christmas to strike “unless provoked.”