The Union of Northern Workers said it has no plan to strike before Christmas – but is "in a legal position to begin strike action if we are provoked."
The union made the comments in a fresh communiqué to its members on Monday, responding to a territorial government statement earlier in the day.
In that statement, the GNWT said it felt progress had been made during two days of mediation talks and outlined, in broad terms, some of the proposals it had put forward.
The sharing of that information appears to have infuriated the union, which wrote: "During this period of mediation the two parties mutually agreed that there would be a blackout on releasing any of the details that were discussed over the two days, in order to allow the mediator an opportunity to write his report."
Mediator Vince Ready's report is expected within the next two weeks. Ready adjourned last week's mediation talks after two of the three scheduled days.
The union said its communication to members on Saturday, which referred to both sides' proposals in only vague terms, was phrased to meet this agreement – but the GNWT's Monday statement shared more than the union had anticipated, "leaving some of our members to believe the UNW was withholding information."
"We want to assure you that was not the UNW's intent," the union added, claiming the GNWT's decision to share broad summaries of its proposals was a sign the territory's negotiators were only interested "in representing the premier and finance minister instead of the 4,000 employees that they should most value."
Even the GNWT's summary of its proposals was lacking in all but the barest detail, mentioning in broad terms the steps it had taken and providing occasional sum-total dollar values but otherwise adding little insight into how any staff member's individual pay and conditions might tangibly change.
The paucity of information shared by either side regarding their proposals this year – no detailed, easily understood document has been made public since January – gives the 4,000 affected members almost no opportunity to independently analyze the steps being taken and good faith shown by either party.
Instead, members must decide which side's statements, and which news outlets' resulting summaries, they prefer to trust.
Both sides 'prepared to meet'
Negotiations for a new collective agreement have been ongoing since January 2016, with salary increases proving the highest-profile issue.
The union's statement added its bargaining team was "working tirelessly to do everything in their power to avoid a strike."
In a clear shot across the territory's bows regarding what the union perceived as an overshare of information, the statement continued: "It is not the union's intention to strike before Christmas. However, we are in a legal position to begin strike action if we are provoked."
In a final paragraph which elevated the dispute almost beyond parody, the union pledged it "continues to be open to meeting with the employer's bargaining team at any time, with or without the mediator, to reach a fair collective agreement."
The territorial government also wrote on Monday that it "continues to be prepared to meet with the union at any time, with or without the mediator, to reach a collective agreement," which would suggest literally no barrier exists to both sides meeting and reaching a collective agreement.