Union changes strike pay to 60 percent of gross salary

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The Union of Northern Workers said all striking members will receive "60 percent of their regular day's pay," in a significant increase from its previous position.

Until now, members were set to receive $117 daily as strike pay if they walk out as planned on Monday.

However, on Friday, the union said in a news release this would become 60 percent of any striking member's gross GNWT salary.

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The union appears to be triggering a Public Service Alliance of Canada measure that lets it strategically pay members more money during the opening period of a strike.

Kim Bailey, a union spokesperson, said this would be roughly equivalent to the net pay an employee would take home, and would be tax-free.

Bailey said this would not be pro-rated for members' hours of strike duty – meaning for every day on strike, members will receive 60 percent of the gross sum they would have earned doing their regular GNWT job.

That would mean someone earning $90,000 a year at the territorial government, which is roughly the average annual GNWT salary, is set to take home around $230 per day under the union's new pay scheme (as long as they take part in strike duty).

The union did not specify how the additional payments would be funded.

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The constitution of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) states the union is limited to maintaining the 60 percent pay rate for only the opening two weeks of a strike.

PSAC's constitution also ordinarily places limits on how many members of a bargaining unit can receive that pay rate.

However, those limits can be lifted if PSAC's national president approves.

Bailey said the Union of Northern Workers had asked the national president to approve the 60 percent for all members it expects to walk out on Monday, and had received approval.

PSAC's constitution says the union is only allowed to increase its strike pay like this if it "can
demonstrate that strategic strike action can effectively undermine an employer’s operations."

"These strategic walkouts will help minimize the impact on union members, our families and
our communities," said union leader Todd Parsons in a statement, "especially important if government provocations end up prolonging any job action."

The union wants the territorial government to move to binding arbitration, saying a strike will begin on Monday unless either that happens or mediation on Friday and Saturday succeeds.

Territorial government ministers say the process set out in legislation, which does not feature binding arbitration, must be followed.

Waiver concern

The union said a waiver drawn up by the territorial government, for unionized employees who wish to cross the picket line, was "provocation [and] an unusually brazen attempt at union-busting."

The territorial government said, in a statement: "The GNWT has prepared a waiver that will be available to employees to sign should they decide to report to work during job action.

More: Read the detail of the GNWT waiver and more internal documents

"This waiver is to confirm that the employee has had the opportunity to discuss their choice with their union representative."

Much anger about the waiver appeared to centre on how it had been, or would be, provided to employees.

It was not immediately clear how the waiver was being, or will be, distributed to territorial government staff.

Two MLAs suggested the GNWT had handed the waiver to all staff, but several government workers told Cabin Radio they had neither seen nor been given any such document.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green said in the legislature she believed distributing the waiver was "fanning the flames," but afterwards admitted she was not sure how the waiver was being circulated, if at all.

"You know more than I do," she told Cabin Radio. "I was going on the information I had been given.

"If you're telling me people you've spoken to haven't seen it or distributed it... I am going to trust that you did your homework."

Crossing picket shouldn't be allowed, says MLA

Green said the territorial government should not be providing any opportunity for any unionized employee, other than those deemed essential or emergency workers, to cross the picket line.

"It's dangerous. It's unproductive. It undermines the union's position," she said. "It is an all-around fail."

Some territorial government staff have voiced a desire to come into work regardless of strike action taking place.

The territorial government says it is obliged to provide those employees with guidance if they wish to come to work.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart said he was told the NWT Power Corporation had been able to devise a system enabling such guidance which had not caused concern for the union, but was unable to explain what that system had been.

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