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Union declared unlawful strike in Hay River, labour board rules

Hay River's health centre
Hay River's health centre. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The Union of Northern Workers unlawfully declared a strike among Hay River health workers earlier this month, the Canada Industrial Relations Board has ruled.

The board was asked to step in by Hay River’s health authority, which alleged the union had acted illegally in issuing a declaration of strike – without any strike actually taking place – while the town remained under an evacuation order.

The union had said it was taking that action to preserve its ability to strike, which otherwise would have expired mid-evacuation as a 60-day window following a strike vote ended.

Experts said the case presented unique circumstances, with a strike vote and month-long wildfire-related evacuation coinciding.

Industrial relations board chair Ginette Brazeau, ruling alone on the matter, said on Friday the union’s declaration of strike broke section 87.2 (1) of the Canada Labour Code, which states that a union “must give notice to the employer, at least seventy-two hours in advance, indicating the date on which a strike will occur, and must provide a copy of the notice to the minister.”

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The full reasons for Brazeau’s decision are not yet available.

Ginette Brazeau has chaired the Canada Industrial Relations Board since 2014.

In a brief written summary, Brazeau said the board “finds that the union has unlawfully declared a strike when it issued the strike declaration on September 8, 2023.”

In a statement, Union of Northern Workers president Gayla Thunstrom said: “We are of course disappointed, but we respect the ruling and have withdrawn our strike declaration. We are reviewing our options.

“Our key goal remains the same. We want to bring back to our members a fair deal that compensates them properly for the difficult work they do and important services they deliver to the community every day.”

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More: Read the Canada Industrial Relations Board’s decision letter

“There are rules that both parties must follow during bargaining, and rules to strike action, and these rules are meant to promote fair bargaining,” Hay River health authority chief executive Erin Griffiths said in a short emailed statement to Cabin Radio.

“We are hopeful that we can continue with negotiations and reach a fair and equitable deal soon.”

The parties were understood to have continued bargaining this week.

Previously, the union said an updated five-year offer made by the health authority was an improvement but still contained some unacceptable terms.

The collective agreement governing some 240 health authority workers, who exist in a separate bargaining unit from other NWT government healthcare staff, expired in early 2021. Negotiations have been ongoing since 2022.