The NWT Power Corporation (NTPC) denied managers are “filling high-level positions with family and friends” after its chief executive’s wife was brought on as a health specialist.
Shelly Voykin, wife of president and chief executive Noel, was hired in April on a six-month term. Her role involves work on pandemic-related safeguards for employees.
The Union of Northern Workers (UNW) made the claim of nepotism in a message to its NTPC members.
Though that message did not identify specific examples, two employees – granted anonymity to speak about a matter they were not authorized to discuss – singled out Shelly Voykin’s hiring.
Union leader Todd Parsons, in the same message, told members relations with the power corporation had broken down on many fronts and a grievance had been filed.
Doug Prendergast, a spokesperson for the power corporation, said Shelly Voykin’s position had been advertised publicly and she was “selected as the best candidate based on her qualifications and recent experience” in an open competition.
Noel Voykin declined an interview request through Prendergast.
Prendergast said by email: “Noel Voykin was not involved in the hiring process and had no input to the decision to hire Shelly.
“Spouses or other family members are not disqualified from applying for positions or being hired at NTPC.”
Union had ‘great hope’
The power corporation is currently facing the fallout from a ransomware attack – not yet understood to be fully resolved – and has a hydro plant offline after a suspected oil spill.
To that list can be added an impending clash with the Union of Northern Workers.
In Parsons’ message to members, the allegation of nepotism was one of many concerns raised.
The UNW twice served strike notice on NTPC last year, following a years-long and increasingly adversarial collective bargaining process. On each occasion, no strike ultimately took place.
Noel Voykin, who took over at the power corporation in April last year, faced a strike threat within a week of starting the job.
Parsons said he met with Voykin in the fall of 2019 “to discuss rebuilding the working relationship” between the two organizations and emerged from that meeting “with great hope.”
However, he told members, “it has now been over seven months and we have seen absolutely no improvement in relations.”
Parsons continued: “The union has gone out of its way to be accommodating with respect to working together, sharing information, and collaborating, with no sincere reciprocation from the employer.”
In particular, Parsons alleges more than 60 grievances were allowed to back up with no adequate resolution, and says NTPC was “not ready” for three arbitration meetings scheduled in the past six months, which did not proceed.
NTPC ‘made every reasonable effort’
Prendergast, responding to Cabin Radio on behalf of NTPC, wrote: “NTPC confirms that there is a backlog of outstanding grievances that need to be resolved. The number is considerably lower than 60.
“There have been a number of challenges aligning schedules between all parties that have contributed to the lack of progress. NTPC has made every reasonable effort to schedule arbitrations but has been unsuccessful in reaching agreement on dates or the order in which arbitration hearings are scheduled.”
Regarding the specific hearings cited by the UNW, the power corporation stated: “There were no dates for arbitration confirmed for November 2019. Dates were set in January and May 2020 but both sessions were cancelled by the arbitrator. The date in May was cancelled as a result of the public health emergency.
“Arbitration dates have not proceeded for a variety of reasons, including cancellation by the arbitrator and the onset of the public health emergency. NTPC has not requested the cancellation of any arbitration sessions in the past year.
“We are aware that the UNW and other northern employers agreed mutually to cancel arbitrations at the onset of the public health emergency.”
Prendergast said the power corporation remained “fully committed [to] strong working relationships” with unionized employees and the UNW’s leadership.
“During the pandemic, NTPC has maintained employment, gone well beyond minimum requirements to keep employees safe, and held daily Skype meetings or emails to keep employees informed,” Prendergast wrote.
“NTPC does not believe it is in the best interest of our unionized employees to discuss labour relations issues through the media. We will continue our best efforts to find common ground with the UNW and look forward to increased cooperation from the UNW.”
Agreement expires in December
Parsons declined an interview request through a spokesperson.
In his message to members, he wrote: “The union has tried for a long time to work with the employer. It has become apparent that the employer is either unable or unwilling to deliver on their commitments.
“The employer appears more focused on filling high-level positions with family and friends than working in partnership with the union in the best interests of workers.
“The relationship has never recovered due to the continued lack of leadership and anti-union animus, to the point that the union has been forced to file a grievance that addresses the deliberate roadblocks and anti-union sentiment of the employer.”
The collective agreement between NTPC and the UNW, only agreed last year but four years overdue, expires on December 31, 2020.