Coffee, donuts and an injunction on Yellowknife’s picket line
Unionized municipal workers in Yellowknife say being handed an injunction was one thing, but the coffee and donuts crossed a line.
Union leaders and workers on picket lines outside city facilities say city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett visited the line to offer coffee after the city won a court-ordered injunction to limit picketing activity.
“This employer has absolutely no respect for those employees that are out on the picket line, none whatsoever,” said Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who is in Yellowknife to support the union’s work representing municipal staff in a dispute over salary increases.
“What we’ve seen today was basically an intimidation tactic by the city manager, visiting the picket lines and offering coffee,” Aylward told Cabin Radio.
“That might seem like a nice gesture, but it was nothing but a slap in the face after, you know, filing for an injunction with the courts just yesterday.”
The NWT Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an injunction designed to prevent picketing municipal workers from obstructing access to city facilities.
Issued by Justice Andrew Mahar, the order limits the delays a picket line can cause to 10 minutes – and limits picket lines to six people at a time.
The order will last for 10 days.
The CBC first reported the City of Yellowknife’s decision to seek the injunction earlier this week.
The city had suggested picket lines were delaying some vehicles by up to an hour at the dump and up to half an hour at the new aquatic centre’s construction site.
In a response after this article was first published, the City o Yellowknife stated the injunction “respects the right of striking union members to picket” but sought the injunction to ensure that “access to city facilities for critical functions was maintained in a reasonable manner.”
Regarding the coffee, the city added: “The people walking the picket line are our friends, family and colleagues. Watching as our colleagues endure these frigid temperatures, management simply wanted to reach out with a gesture of kindness through hot coffee.”
A strike and lockout have now lasted for more than a week. The city is offering two-percent annual pay increases with a lump-sum payment to counter recent inflation. Unions involved say further negotiations are “pointless” unless the city increases the two-percent figure.
“The injunction is not going to stop the strike,” said Aylward on Wednesday.
“The only way the strike is going to end is if the employer comes to the table with a new mandate and offers a better general economic increase to the members.”
‘Pushed closer together’
Separately on Wednesday, the unions invited Yellowknife’s mayor and council to attend a “frank and friendly discussion” on Thursday at noon.
Mayor Rebecca Alty, in an email to the unions provided to Cabin Radio after this article was first published, said a conversation would instead be “most meaningful” at the bargaining table.
“At this time, it would not be appropriate or legal for council to meet with the union, as negotiations are ongoing,” Alty wrote.
“Legally, council can’t hold meetings in private when decisions are before council. For example, if a developer has a housing application that needs council approval, council would not meet with that developer to discuss it in private. Or if a contractor was negotiating with the city, council would not meet with the contractor in private to discuss.
“The same goes in this situation – this is a matter before council and we can’t be lobbied behind closed doors.”
At an earlier union press conference, striking workers said they felt the city’s injunction represented “an effort to bully employees.”
“I thoroughly disapprove of how they’ve handled this,” said Bob Taylor, ordinarily a building inspector at the city.
“I’m still a little bit too emotionally invested in this. I had a friend talk to me today about how to let go of this and look at the positive. And the positive is that we’re standing together, we’re stronger than ever. And everything the city does only pushes us closer together and make us stronger.”
Geraldine Penney, a vice-president of the local that represents most municipal workers and a bargaining team member, said the unions had been “playing fairly” on the picket lines and had “moved around” people to ensure the court-ordered cap of six people per line was being met.
Penney said the speed with which an injunction arrived on Tuesday suggested to her that the city had not been prepared to seriously negotiate when the parties met for mediated talks on Monday.
“The coffee and donuts? Come on,” she added. “That’s a joke. And nobody’s laughing here. This is our livelihood. This is our jobs. This is our families.”