Job action – including a strike – will be on the table when unionized government workers hold meetings in Yellowknife next week.

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, says the union is not backing down from its demand for a three per cent wage hike.

The Union of Northern Workers (UNW), which represents GNWT employees, is not backing down from its demandat  for a three per cent wage increase on April 1.

“We still are going to remain focused on improving the wage package that has been offered by the government of the Northwest Territories,” UNW president Todd Parsons said Tuesday.

The union is fighting for a three-year collective agreement that includes a three per cent wage increase each year.

The government is pitching a four-year collective agreement with no wage increases until the final year, said Parsons, which is when they propose a raise of 0.01 per cent.

He called the government’s offer “offensive.”

Parsons said the proposal would not even lead to a tentative agreement.

UNW will hold “strike vote meetings” in Yellowknife on Feb. 26 and 27 at which members will discuss items at issue for both the government and the union.

Actions “up to, and including, a general strike,” will be debated, said Parsons.

“Our members are discussing it and they’re taking the matter very seriously.”

Sticking points for the union include stagnant wages and job security.

Parsons would like to see a staff retention policy folded into the collective agreement.

Such a policy would require the employer to try to find other work for its employee in the event that the employee’s position is eliminated.

Parsons said the union isn’t always notified when one of its members is laid off.

He said the government cites employee privacy as a reason not to inform the UNW when a member is let go.

“We completely disagree with that,” said Parsons.

The union did not see its desired salary increases factored into the 2018-19 territorial budget.

However, the proposed budget does include two “labour relations” positions.

Among the duties of these labour relations personnel is collective bargaining on behalf of the GNWT.

Dave Stewart, the deputy minister of finance, said on Feb. 8 that the two positions amount to “a relatively modest investment” and will enable the Finance Department to research collective agreements in other jurisdictions, do salary comparisons and put the government “in a better position to deal with our collective bargaining processes.”

He said right now there is one person who does this work for the whole GNWT.

Parsons does not believe the new labour relations staff will have an impact on negotiations.

The last time unionized GNWT workers had a salary increase, said Parsons, was in the final year of the collective agreement that expired March 31, 2016, when they got a 3.3 per cent raise.

The territorial finance minister declined to say whether he would support a three per cent wage increase for government employees.
“We continue to try to have conversations with them and hopefully come to an agreement,” Robert C. McLeod said on Feb. 8.

A government strike would have “some residual effect on spending,” said McLeod.

Parsons said a strike would affect access to public services for every Northwest Territories resident.

“The last thing we want is a strike,” he said.

However, Parsons added, the more willing union members are to strike, the more likely it is the government will come back with a better wage offer.

Should a pay increase be included in the new collective agreement, said Stewart, the government will introduce a supplementary appropriations bill in the legislature to allow for extra spending.

“We pass usually about three or four of those a year,” he said.

The 2018-19 budget sets aside $20 million for supplementary appropriations.

Stewart said the Department of Finance believes there is enough in the supplementary reserve to account for a new collective agreement, though he could not confirm that there is enough to cover a 3 per cent salary increase, specifically.

He said if the government needed more money than what is available in the reserve, it would have to add that amount to its debt.

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  1. “The government is pitching a four-year collective agreement with no wage increases until the final year, said Parsons, which is when they propose a raise of 0.01 per cent.”

    This is not an accurate statement. The GNWT current proposals has the following salary increases (not including step increases):

    2016-17 – 0%
    2017-18 – 0%
    2018-19 – 1%
    2019-20 – 1.1%

    I think what Todd was trying to say is the GNWT changed their original proposal from 1% in 2019-20, to 1.1%. So the incremental increase between proposals would be 0.1%, not 0.01%.

    The UNW has not moved on their position of:

    2016-17 – 3%
    2017-18 – 3%
    2018-19 – 3%