Unions and city dig in on central issue of salary increases
The likelihood of a drawn-out municipal strike in Yellowknife appeared to increase as new talks broke down over an old issue: salary increases.
Since city workers first threatened strike action, the unions involved have said their main concern is a two-percent annual wage increase proposed by the City of Yellowknife.
The unions say that’s too low after a year of seven-percent inflation. They are reported to be seeking salary increases of five percent then three percent over two years.
But the city on Monday made clear that, though a strike and lockout are under way, the municipality’s negotiators are not currently prepared to move on their two-percent figure.
Talks broke down at 6pm on Monday. No new date for a fresh attempt has been presented publicly by either side.
The city said the union had “left the table without responding to the city’s latest offer,” which included a one-off lump-sum payment to counter inflation but kept the two-percent increases.
On Tuesday, in a news release, the Union of Northern Workers and Public Service Alliance of Canada said: “Until the employer is willing to discuss wages, coming back to the table is pointless.”
Reilly Hinchey, president of the union local that represents most municipal workers, was quoted as saying: “We tried our best to get a fair deal yesterday. Hearing that the city is unwilling to move on wages, we did not think it would be fair to sit in a warm room knowing that it was all pointless.”
Despite that, the unions said they believe negotiators on both sides are “closer than ever to a deal” – if the city moves on wages.
However, both sides have now made the issue of salary increases something of a red line, to the extent that either party may find it hard to move on their position without appearing to invalidate or undermine their previous messaging.
In the meantime, the two parties sought in recent news releases to portray theirs as the position worthy of public support.
The city, appealing to taxpaying residents, said it could not entertain the unions’ requested salary increases because they would result in a property tax increase of four to five percent.
The unions, appealing to frustrated residents who cannot access facilities, stated: “The actions of the employer have so far indicated that they have no intention of reaching a fair deal, and would rather close facilities and punish the public as leverage to force members into a bad deal.”
In a parting shot, the unions said “whoever is calling the shots over at the city” should provide a new mandate that allows municipal negotiators to include higher wage increases.
Since the lockout began, the unions have publicly questioned whether City Hall’s position is being set by city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett or city council. Bassi-Kellett has, to date, been the city’s primary voice during the dispute. The city’s mayor and several councillors have issued statements, but council did not address the situation in two public meetings on Monday.