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Mayor questions union decision to decline binding arbitration

A sign at a picket line in Yellowknife in February 2023
A sign at a picket line in Yellowknife in February 2023. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Yellowknife’s mayor has queried the decision of unions representing municipal workers to decline the city’s offer of binding arbitration.

The city formally offered binding arbitration to the unions on Wednesday in a bid to end a strike and lockout that began on February 8 following a dispute over salary increases.

On Friday morning, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and Union of Northern Workers – each of which play a role in representing most municipal staff – said they wanted to allow more time for negotiations to play out.

The city’s offer of binding arbitration, the unions said, showed their current approach is “not going unnoticed” at City Hall.



“The pickets are working, and our members are united behind their bargaining team,” union leaders wrote in a Friday news release.

In response, Mayor Rebecca Alty said on Facebook: “The union’s desire to continue to negotiate – which they haven’t had a desire to do in the past 11 days – prolongs the strike. Our offer to go to binding arbitration remains.”

The unions earlier said their bargaining team had formally declined the city’s request, which would have involved appointing a third-party arbitrator whose ruling on a fair collective agreement would have been final.

The City of Yellowknife has offered two-percent annual pay increases plus a lump-sum payment to offset recent inflation. The unions’ latest proposal seeks 3.75-percent annual increases with a signing bonus and other incentives.



Would arbitration hasten or prolong the process?

The city noted this week that the Union of Northern Workers has previously been a fierce advocate of binding arbitration as a means to end other labour disputes.

Responding to that, the unions wrote: “Every negotiation is different, and in each situation, the union will choose the path that we feel will lead to the best possible outcome for our members.

“The union is of the strong position that the best outcome is for the parties to negotiate a settlement at the bargaining table and not hand over their responsibilities – for which they have been elected or appointed – to a binding third party.

“Additionally, getting a result from an arbitration could take several weeks. At this point, we still believe that the best way to come to a deal is through negotiation.”

Alty disagreed with that assessment.

“We’ve been in negotiations since May 2022. We’ve had a mediator trying to help us reach an agreement for close to three months. The union walked away from the table 11 days ago and hasn’t reached out to come back and resume negotiations since,” the mayor wrote.

“We’re at an impasse. Binding arbitration is an option to end the strike and lockout now. It would mean all employees are back at work and services and programs resume for residents.”