The Union of Northern Workers will only release details of recently held strike mandate votes in the Northwest Territories if there is a strategic benefit to doing so.

The union is representing four thousand territorial government workers in collective bargaining negotiations that have now entered a third year.

The last of several strike mandate vote meetings took place in Yellowknife last week, while mail-in ballots are still being counted. The union is threatening strike action as it demands significantly higher year-on-year pay increases than the territorial government is willing to offer.

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“As discussed at the strike vote meetings, the strike vote results may or may not be released,” read an update posted to a Facebook group for union members by Caitlin Lacey, assistant to union president Todd Parsons, on Wednesday.

Message from Caitlin Lacey to UNW members
A message from UNW staff member Caitlin Lacey to union members, posted to a closed Facebook group on Wednesday.

“Once the votes are counted, the bargaining team will strategize on how and when to use the results. It may be made public, it may be saved for going into mediation, and it may not be released at all.”

Failing to secure a strike mandate would be an embarrassment for the union, which needs to be able to threaten the territory with a strike in order to shift the balance of power in negotiations.

Equally, a strike could cause prolonged disruption throughout the territory and send thousands of people out of their workplace for an indefinite period, an outcome the territorial government would far prefer to avoid.

The territory maintains it simply does not have the financial means to improve its offer of a two-year pay freeze followed by two annual increases of around one percent each.

The union says its bargaining team will meet later in April “to discuss strategy and next steps.” Several legal criteria have yet to be met before a strike can be called, such as the completion of a formal mediation process involving a third party.

“Rest assured, a strike will not happen without all bargaining avenues being completely exhausted first,” the union update informed members of the closed group, to which individuals can only be admitted with prior approval.

Anyone employed by the territory under the existing collective agreement must pay union dues, but employees are not necessarily union members. Anyone choosing not to join the union must pay the same dues anyway, without the benefits or voting rights, and without receiving strike pay if a walkout occurs.