Municipal workers on a picket line outside Yellowknife City Hall on February 8. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The City of Yellowknife said on Thursday evening it had “asked the union to set a date” for a return to negotiations as a municipal strike’s second day ended.
In a news release, the city said it was “committed to returning to the negotiating table at any time” and had a counter-offer to share following a walkout that began on Wednesday.
Unions representing city workers had earlier called for the city to “reach out to come back to the table,” a request the city appeared to have fulfilled, though the Union of Northern Workers and Public Service Alliance of Canada had yet to comment or confirm receipt of correspondence from city negotiators.
On Thursday, picket lines appeared outside City Hall, Yellowknife’s swimming pool, its curling club and the municipal dump.
Union officials said garbage trucks were being allowed through the dump picket line as that service is operated by a contractor. The PSAC tweeted that at least one vehicle reaching the dump had opted to turn around rather than cross the picket.
“Morale is great. People seem happy out there. It’s a little bit cold but it hasn’t stopped them,” said Union of Northern Workers president Gayla Thunstorm. (Both the UNW and PSAC have roles in representing city workers.)
“They believe they are out for a reason and they’ll stay out here as long as needed,” Thunstrom added.
Thunstrom, speaking before the city issued a news release stating it had reached out to the union, said the city bore the responsibility of taking the next step.
“We’re ready, willing and able to go to the table but the employer has got to come to us with something,” she said.
The city did not publicly present details of its counter-offer. Previously, the municipality has said it has “creative options” to share that don’t involve increasing its offer of two-percent annual pay increases. That’s the major sticking point – the unions argue that the recent high rate of inflation warrants larger pay hikes.
City manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett could not be reached on Wednesday afternoon or throughout Thursday. The city said in a statement that it was “committed to reaching a fair, respectful and affordable agreement.”
“Our residents and employees remain our priority, and we hope to have positive news to share soon,” the statement continued.
Thunstrom declined to elaborate on what the unions would consider a fair deal, saying she was not part of the bargaining process.
“I’ve been out with the membership. The bargain team is doing their work with the negotiators. They’re doing their job. I’m doing my job,” she said.
“The employer talks about all these creative ideas they’ve got. We haven’t heard them. We haven’t seen them.”
The city contends that it had no opportunity to share those ideas before union negotiators walked away from the bargaining table on Tuesday morning.
Thunstrom, picketing outside City Hall at lunchtime on Thursday, said the unions were “taking this strike one day at a time.”
“Our members? They’re here for as long as it takes,” she said.