Less than one week into his new job as leader of the NWT Power Corporation, Noel Voykin faces the prospect of more than 160 staff walking out.
The Union of Northern Workers on Wednesday told the power corporation its members will strike at 12:01am this coming Monday, if no deal is reached during mediation starting on Friday.
Responding to the union’s announcement, Voykin – who became the power corporation’s new president and chief executive on April 1 – said he must weigh the demands of workers with the potential impact on customers.
Residents and businesses in the Northwest Territories already pay among the highest rates in Canada for power, often four times what southerners are charged, and the power corporation recently requested another rate hike.
Meanwhile, 162 unionized power corporation staff have not had a collective agreement in place since December 2014, and the union says their wages are slipping behind the northern cost of living – including the cost of the power they help to generate.
“We value the work of all our employees and are committed to negotiating a new collective agreement that is fair to workers and reflective of our current financial reality,” said Voykin on Wednesday evening, in his first statement since beginning work at the corporation on Monday.
“We need to find a balance between investing in our employees and being fiscally responsible to our customers by doing everything we can to keep electricity rates as low as possible for residents of the NWT.”
The power corporation, which has 58 non-unionized staff, said it will be able to continue delivering power without disruption if a strike occurs.
“Managers, non-unionized staff, and unionized employees designated as essential personnel will ensure reliable electricity service is maintained if a strike occurs,” read a statement from the power corporation.
Voykin added: “In the event of a strike, we will remain committed to maintaining reliable electricity for our customers.”
Earlier this week, in a note to members, the union said its recent deal with the territorial government over GNWT staff was no indication that its power corporation dispute would be settled.
“While a binding settlement has been imposed … for the members at GNWT, there are no guarantees that a similar settlement will be easily reached during mediation at the NTPC table in the coming week,” the union’s message read.
That notwithstanding, the power corporation said it “remains optimistic that an agreement can be achieved.”
Noel Voykin is in his first week as president and chief executive of the NWT Power Corporation.
Mediation begins on Friday. The power corporation said two days are scheduled, while the union’s website, on different pages, variously states two or three days of mediation are planned.
The union did not respond to an interview request on Wednesday. The power corporation did not grant an interview, directing Cabin Radio to its statement.
Voykin’s appointment to succeed Jay Grewal at the power corporation, and his April 1 start date, were announced in mid-February.
After 18 months in the top job, Grewal left the power corporation to take over at Manitoba Hydro.
Voykin has previously worked with the Canadian Armed Forces, SaskPower, TransAlta Utilities, and uranium-energy company Cameco.