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Union and YWCA ‘at impasse’ over Fort Smith shelter workers

A sign greets visitors to Fort Smith
A sign greets visitors to Fort Smith. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Negotiations between the YWCA NWT and Union of Northern Workers have stalled, the union said, as the two parties negotiate a new collective agreement for Fort Smith family violence shelter workers.

The agreement covers between 10 and 19 staff at Sutherland House, a number which fluctuates as the eight-bed shelter relies on a mix of full-time, part-time, and casual staff.

Sutherland House is the only unionized facility the YWCA operates. Workers unionized in 2014 when the non-profit assumed control of the shelter from the territorial government.

In a message to unionized workers at the shelter, the union’s bargaining team stated the two parties met for three days of negotiation in early July but will now not return to the bargaining table without a mediator.



“We’re still in the process. We’ve come to an impasse,” said Louise Beaulieu, the Sutherland House union representative, on Thursday.

Referencing the YWCA’s offer, the union’s letter to workers stated: “When we refused to accept so little, the YWCA NWT declared impasse, which means we will not be meeting with the YWCA NWT again until a mediator is present.”

Beaulieu said a mediator has yet to be hired but is expected to be arranged within the next few months.

The YWCA NWT’s president, Lyda Fuller, said the negotiating parties need outside assistance and the organization’s lawyer is looking into it. “I’m sure we can come to a fair collective agreement,” she stated in an email to Cabin Radio. “We value our staff and have demonstrated that in many ways over the years.”



According to the union, key issues on the table include wages, improvements for casual workers, a “fair disciplinary process,” and longer leave for domestic violence, parental, and compassionate care.

The bargaining team stated the YWCA NWT was unwilling to accept the union’s demands for economic increases.

“They just don’t think you are worth more than what they have offered,” the letter stated.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Fuller told Cabin Radio the YWCA had offered a four-year agreement with an average of 2.3 percent year-on-year wage increases, which she says is generally a reflection of wage increases across the organization.

The previous collective agreement, which expired on May 31, calls for incremental pay increases every second year until employees reach a maximum increment.

Pay increases in the YWCA collective agreement which expired May 31, as shown in the document.

The bargaining team challenged the YWCA to prove it cannot afford the wage increases the union has requested.

“Unless the YWCA can show us that they can’t afford to provide better and fairer economic increases, the union believes that the YWCA NWT has the money to pay you better,” the letter states.



“I’m not sure that that is going to give them the information they are really seeking, because the shelter doesn’t have more money,” Fuller responded. The shelter receives funding from the territory’s health authority.

Domestic violence leave

The union is asking for employees to receive 10 days of domestic violence leave, something the Public Service Alliance of Canada – of which the union is a component – has been promoting across the country.

The territorial government is considering legislation which would mandate domestic violence leave, though details are still being determined.

Fuller says she surveyed family violence shelters across the country and found none offering more than five paid days related to domestic violence.

“We agreed that we would offer five days of paid leave, which is the maximum the rest of the country offers, and somehow that isn’t good enough,” Fuller said.

The letter also states a key issue is “stopping bullying and gossiping.”

Beaulieu did not elaborate further on this statement. Fuller said both parties agreed there shouldn’t be bullying and gossip in the shelter.

“I think in smaller communities, where everybody knows everybody else, there are a lot of interesting dynamics that happen and the shelter is no different in that,” Fuller said, while stating she was unaware of any specific issues at the shelter.



The union states the YWCA did not agree to demands for a disciplinary process “that would support fair discipline at Sutherland House.” Fuller said such a process is laid out in the collective agreement and is being followed.

The eight-bed facility in Fort Smith, staffed 24 hours a day, helps women experiencing violence and their children. Women can stay for up to six weeks and their children, including boys up to the age of 14, can stay with their mothers.

Services provided include support, advocacy, and referrals for individual women, as well as life skills and education groups.

A 24-hour crisis line operates seven days a week. Women in situations of violence can call the crisis line at (867) 872-4133 in the Fort Smith area, or toll-free at (877) 872-5925.

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, did not respond to a request for comment.

Sarah Pruys contributed reporting.