Municipal workers on a picket line in Yellowknife on February 8. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Ratification of a deal that would end Yellowknife’s municipal strike and lockout is now highly unlikely to take place before next week, Cabin Radio understands.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada and Union of Northern Workers are still working on a return-to-work agreement with the City of Yellowknife that governs how the work stoppage will end.
The terms of a new collective agreement tentatively agreed between the parties remain a secret. Even most of the workers the deal affects have yet to see it.
The PSAC and UNW have not publicly commented this week on either the agreement or the ratification process. A Thursday morning request for an update went unanswered.
Unionized workers must ratify the deal – in other words, vote in favour of it – before it can be formally put in place, ending a work stoppage that began on February 8.
But in a Thursday email to members of Local 345, which represents city workers, the local’s leadership suggested a ratification vote was now being pushed to Monday next week or later.
“The return-to-work agreement is still being ironed out,” that email stated.
“UNW/PSAC has spent countless hours this past week trying to get this figured out with the city. They are still hard at work so we will again postpone the ratification vote until (maybe?) Monday.
“We understand that this is extremely important for us to get done, so we are trying to be able to give you all some notice in order to allow you to plan accordingly. Again, we will continue to update you as the information comes in to us.”
In the meantime, picketing will continue on Friday and throughout the weekend.
The agreement in question runs until the end of this calendar year. Most of its provisions are set to be backdated to either January 1, 2022 or January 1, 2023. A new collective agreement will need to be negotiated for the start of 2024 onward.
Unions acknowledge ‘limbo’ for members
On Thursday lunchtime, Yellowknife’s city council held the first of two meetings required to approve the new collective agreement.
Councillors unanimously approved first reading of the bylaw that establishes the new agreement. Two more readings are needed, both of which can be accomplished in a second meeting – but not until the deal is ratified.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said councillors will meet at 8:30am on Friday prepared to carry out those readings, but can only go ahead once ratification is complete.
“The membership hasn’t voted on it yet,” Alty said as Thursday’s lunchtime meeting ended.
“We’re still calling the [Friday] meeting… then we’ll do a recess and reconvene at a set hour that we determine tomorrow, after the membership votes.”
As of 5pm on Thursday, that plan had not publicly changed, though the delay to ratification means council will almost certainly need to further delay its second meeting until next week.
In earlier emails to city workers seen by Cabin Radio, union leaders acknowledged that “it may be a little frustrating to feel like you are in limbo” with a deal reached but no obvious progress this week.
In those emails, the unions say negotiations are continuing to reach the return-to-work agreement, which sets out how the strike and lockout end and deals with any issues that arise as a consequence.
One such issue is what happens to employees’ vacation for the period immediately after the strike and lockout, when City Hall can expect to be under significant pressure to catch up on a backlog of work across its departments.
Hinting that this is a concern, the unions asked any municipal workers who had vacation booked between March 17 and April 11 to “contact the union ASAP.”
Meanwhile, in another email to unionized workers, the unions’ bargaining team said: “We still don’t have everything ironed out. We know that this is frustrating as we are not able to share more information, but it’s currently the best that we have.
“We will continue to update you with whatever sliver of information we get, so that we are all on the same page. Strike pay is still available by picketing as we are still on strike until this thing is over!
“Not to sound like a broken record, but seriously – thank you all for your patience. We know this isn’t the easiest to deal with and we’re close to the end.”