Five NWT MLAs have urged the territorial government and Union of Northern Workers (UNW) to “actively resume the mediation process” as collective bargaining enters a fourth year.
Yellowknife MLAs Julie Green, Kevin O’Reilly, Kieron Testart, and Cory Vanthuyne signed Wednesday’s open letter, as did Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson.
“The GNWT and Union of Northern Workers have a long history of successful bargaining. However, we are concerned that the current lull in the talks impacts family life and the economy,” the five wrote.
“Many residents and businesses have expressed their desire to members for a swift resolution of the impasse. We have informed the Minister of Finance of this feedback from constituents.
“We understand that both parties are under a great deal of pressure to reach a fair collective agreement. As difficult as this is across the Northwest Territories, the consequences of failure should also serve as strong incentive to bargain in good faith.”
Cabin Radio understands the union and territorial government have already committed to resuming mediation with a second round of talks. A date early in the new year was anticipated, but the process relies as much on the calendar of mediator Vince Ready, whose services are in demand, as it does on the two parties’ enthusiasm for a settlement.
Clarifying the letter’s intent, Green – the MLA for Yellowknife Centre – said she hoped it would speed up the “existing processes” through which the union and territory were working.
The politicians’ comments come a week after union members staged a “practice picket” outside a Yellowknife power plant owned by the NWT Power Corporation.
Staff at the corporation, which is controlled by the territorial government, are also represented by the union as a separate bargaining unit.
The UINW’s collective bargaining on three fronts – the territorial government, the power corporation, and Hay River’s health authority – has stalled for years and, more recently, edged closer toward strike action.
MLAs allowed a two-year freeze on their own pay to expire earlier this year, meaning their salaries have resumed tracking the territory’s increasing cost of living.
The resumption of those increases came at an awkward time, with GNWT collective bargaining primarily held up by the issue of salary increases for some 4,000 territorial government staff.
The territorial government says it does not possess the cash needed to grant what would now be a series of backdated three-percent year-on-year increases, as requested by the union – a request projected by some to cost more than $100 million in additional salary, for which the territory has not budgeted.
While cost-of-living increases to fewer than 20 MLAs’ salaries require expenditure several orders of magnitude smaller, union members have questioned the territorial government’s stance given the willingness of MLAs to resume their own pay hikes.
Last week, two participants interviewed by Cabin Radio at the UNW’s “practice picket” specifically raised the issue of MLAs’ pay increases as one reason why they felt obliged to support the union’s action.