A picket line outside Yellowknife City Hall. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The City of Yellowknife is refusing to allow a workers’ leader to appear in front of council at a public meeting, unions say.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada and Union of Northern Workers say Reilly Hinchey, president of the union local at the heart of the current dispute, was told she could not make a presentation to councillors.
Hinchey’s local represents most employees at the City of Yellowknife, amounting to around 200 people.
In a news release on Monday, the unions said Hinchey asked last week to speak at Monday evening’s council meeting, a right normally afforded to any member of the public who requests it. Each council meeting agenda contains an item dedicated to such presentations.
The unions say the city clerk turned down that request and one from another resident, “saying it would be inappropriate to make a public presentation on ‘personnel matters’ before council.”
The City of Yellowknife, approached for comment, said Mayor Rebecca Alty would be made available for interview on the matter in the near future.
Council meetings have been held by video link since a municipal strike and lockout began on February 8.
The unions say turning down Hinchey’s request is emblematic of a council that has so far sought to avoid accountability for its role in the labour dispute.
Alty and councillors have spoken infrequently on the topic of the salary increases the unions are seeking and the picketing taking place outside city facilities. Several members of council have shared news releases from the City of Yellowknife, while Alty posted her own message on Facebook last week expressing frustration at the unions’ refusal to agree to binding arbitration.
Appearing on Mornings at the Cabin last week, Councillor Garett Cochrane said: “I would love to address this more when this is all done, but currently we’re in a situation where it’s not appropriate for us to be able to bargain here in public.
“We have the best staff in the world, we have the best senior management in the world, and I can’t wait for us to be able to finish off this deal and get everybody back to work.”
‘Can’t have it both ways’
A February 15 request from the unions to speak privately with council was declined. Alty said at the time: “Legally, council can’t hold meetings in private when decisions are before council.”
The unions on Monday said: “The City of Yellowknife can’t have it both ways.”
They want the city to “at the very least” allow residents to make presentations to council at meetings.
Monday’s press release asked: “If council is not willing to discuss this with residents or union leaders behind closed doors, or in public, how can they be accountable to residents?
“Are our elected city councillors accountable to the public or to city administration? Was city council elected to represent all Yellowknife residents, or only repeat talking points from city management?”
The city’s stated position is that binding arbitration is on the table and represents the fastest end to the dispute, which centres on union demands for higher annual salary increases.
The unions say “the pickets are working” and the city should up its offer of two-percent annual increases to the 3.75-percent they are requesting.