A sign in the windows of the Union of Northern Workers' Yellowknife building, as it appeared on February 3, 2023 in a photo issued by the union.
The City of Yellowknife says its unionized workers have declared they’ll strike on Wednesday. The unions involved say the city is preparing to lock those workers out.
In a Sunday morning statement, the city said union representatives had contacted City Hall serving notice of a strike to commence on February 8.
“The city is disappointed to receive this strike notice today, as bargaining negotiations are set to continue tomorrow,” the statement read, referring to mediation scheduled for Monday afternoon and Tuesday.
But later on Sunday, the Public Service Alliance and Union of Northern Workers used different terminology to describe the notice sent to the city.
Saying they had served only a “notice to be in legal strike position for February 8” – and stating that was a legal requirement 72 hours ahead of any potential strike action – the unions accused the city of issuing a “surprise lockout notice” in return.
A lockout is a work stoppage initiated by an employer, in contrast to a strike, which is action taken by employees.
“The surprise lockout notice from the city casts serious doubts on its intentions to settle an agreement in mediation,” the unions wrote.
Gayla Thunstrom, the Union of Northern Workers’ president, was quoted as saying: “I am really disappointed that the bullying and intimidation from the employer has escalated, but it shows what city workers have been dealing with.”
The city’s statement contained no mention of a lockout. City Hall has been approached for comment.
The conflicting messages left residents with little clue about what was actually happening as the municipality appeared to drift toward a stoppage of work, at whoever’s instigation, in three days’ time.
Salary increases in the next collective agreement are central to the deteriorating relations.
The city is offering annual salary increases of two percent, but the unions say workers deserve larger annual increases to account for the present high rate of inflation.
On Friday, the Public Service Alliance of Canada declined to specify the unions’ precise demands but said the increases sought are between two and seven percent annually.
If no deal is reached on Monday or Tuesday, around 200 workers are expected to walk off the job.
The city said “all critical and essential services” would be maintained in that eventuality, such as public works, fire, ambulance and municipal enforcement.
However, city facilities like the library, pool, fieldhouse and arenas would close. Non-essential snow removal wouldn’t take place, garbage collection would move to a weekly schedule with no compost pick-up or blue recycling bins, and all winter programs and lessons would be suspended. The dump would close.
If a strike happens, services at City Hall will be available by appointment only.
The city posted a full list of planned changes on its website.
“The city remains committed to the bargaining process and the negotiation in good faith of a collective agreement,” the municipality stated. “Due to the uncertainty of the situation, the city has no choice but to adapt its services and programs.”