Ben Hendriksen, one of three Yellowknife city councillors who also hold UNW membership. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Ben Hendriksen, Rob Warburton and Steve Payne are city councillors on the eve of industrial action in Yellowknife. They are also members of the union concerned.
Being a city councillor is only part-time work (excepting the mayor, who in Yellowknife is full-time). Councillors ordinarily hold down other jobs, and the three councillors are UNW members by virtue of other work they perform.
That leaves them in a complicated position when it comes to issues of labour relations and lockouts, given city staff are also represented by the UNW and the larger group to which it belongs, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. After mediation ended early on Tuesday morning, some 200 municipal workers represented by those unions are set to stop work at midnight – either through a lockout or a strike.
The two unions made public a letter to the three councillors on Tuesday, warning them that crossing a picket line would be considered an offence under union regulations as “conduct prejudicial to the good order and welfare of the union.” (A separate letter to council as a whole added: “Crossing picket lines, especially for city councillors who are leadership to the management and the unionized workers, shows ultimate disrespect for your workers.”)
The unions also called for the three to remove themselves from any discussion or decisions as councillors related to the current labour dispute, given their standing with the UNW.
Responding late on Tuesday afternoon in a joint statement, the three councillors accused the union to which they belong of intimidatory tactics.
“We are UNW members through our employment and respect the right to work action. However, we are not UNW members employed by the city and, with that, we must balance these responsibilities,” an email signed by Payne, Hendriksen and Warburton stated.
“We know the UNW may not see things this way, but it is unfortunate that they have decided to publicly pit their own members against one another. We as councillors are all confident in our ability to perform our elected roles objectively, despite the perceptions of others.
“We find it very disheartening as UNW members that the president of the UNW and PSAC North’s regional executive vice-president decided to send and publicly post what we consider to be a letter of intimidation to ourselves without first attempting to speak with any one of us in advance. However, that was their decision. Our only remedy is to ensure through this letter that the public understands our position.”
The three said they could not abide by the unions’ requests without neglecting their “fiduciary responsibility to the city.”
“We have an elected duty to Yellowknifers that we intend to fulfill,” they concluded.
The PSAC and UNW have been approached for comment.