Members of the Union of Northern Workers held up signs urging the government to budge in collective bargaining negotiations on Wednesday in the public chamber of the Legislative Assembly.
The union urged its members, as well as their friends and family, through a notice, to “fill the gallery and show our solidarity” after mediated negotiations were ended a day early by independent mediator Vince Ready, making no further progress in a years-long negotiating stalemate.
Publicly, the government offered a four-year deal with zero, zero, one and 1.1 percent increases. The union has asked for three per cent salary increases over four years. After negotiations broke down, the union stated it is legally in a position to strike, but wouldn’t do so until after Christmas ‘unless provoked.’
During the first hour of Wednesday’s session there were 67 people sitting in the gallery. It was clear that not all 67 were involved with the UNW sitting, however about half wore UNW support pins and showed other signs of solidarity.
Soon after proceedings started, UNW members Clement-Eric Demers and Carole Monnet, who work with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, held up a sign reading “negotiate.”
According to Demers and Monnet, Legislative Assembly security “firmly but politely” asked the two members to leave the chamber.
“We support negotiations,” said Demers. “We don’t support what the government did to abruptly stop negotiations during remediation. We support adult, honest negotiation.”
When asked if they would support a strike, Demers and Monnet said that they would prefer to see the two sides continue to work towards a fair deal.
“Between zero and three, between freezing the salaries and three per cent increases, perhaps there is an in-between and we would like to see an end to this because it’s been like this a long time now,” said Monnet. “Who wants to go on strike? I think it shows that we are ready. I think that was the aim today. I think the people who are here show that we are ready if it goes on like this forever but first, try.”
While Demers and Monnet called for the two sides to continue to work together, other union members present had a much stronger message for the government.
“I fully support a strike for every reason that the union has laid out,” said Crystal Walsh, a registered nurse at Stanton Territorial Hospital. “These reasons don’t directly affect me, but I’m willing to go on strike for my brothers and sisters and the members within our union.”
Walsh said it was important for union members to sit in the gallery to show the government who is on the other side of the negotiations.
“I think it’s important for the Government of the Northwest Territories, the MLAs, to see us face-to-face to know who they’re dealing with,” said Walsh.
During his member’s statement, Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne urged both sides to continue to work to avoid a strike.
“We have all worked too hard in the 18th Assembly, keeping a careful eye on spending. I know for a fact that every dollar is being stretched,” said Vanthuyne. “But on the other hand I see UNW membership not as opponents, but as members of the same team.”
During oral questions, Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart asked Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod about negotiations and when he expected the mediators report to be filed.
“We are still in the process of talking with the UNW and the door is always open for further talks and I will say no more on that,” responded McLeod.
The mediator has up to 14 days from the conclusion of last week’s talks to file his report.
Unionized government workers have been without a collective bargaining deal since 2016.