The Union of Northern Workers says around two-thirds of affected members who voted have chosen to support strike action against the territorial government.

Strike mandate votes took place across the Northwest Territories in February and March as a collective bargaining stand-off over government workers’ wages entered its third year.

Having initially suggested it may keep the result secret, the union’s bargaining team decided last week to release the figure to its membership.

The union also implied an independent mediator had been called upon to advance negotiations with the territory.

‘A strike is bad’

Members received an email update late on Monday which stated: “Almost 70 percent of voting members have voted in favour of strike action.”

The update accused the territorial government of refusing to lift its proposed annual wage increase from zero percent, zero percent, one percent and 1.1 percent, year-on-year, for four years – despite, in the union’s words, enjoying “a $175 million budget surplus in the last fiscal year.”

The territorial government has consistently disputed the union’s interpretation of its finances, and insists there is no money available with which to meet the union’s demands.

In the update to members, UNW president Todd Parsons is quoted as saying: “The bargaining team is grateful for the support of the members. They will continue to fight for a fair deal for the members.”

The email, independently forwarded to Cabin Radio by three union members, also includes a draft of a news release the union intends to publish in the near future.

In that release, Parsons will say: “Our purpose is not to strike, because a strike is bad for everyone. It is a powerful tool that we have been given and I hope that we don’t have to use it.”

Essay question

In the email, but not the news release, the union states a mediator will now enter negotiations between the UNW – which represents around 4,000 government workers in the NWT – and the territorial government.

The email does not provide any numerical breakdown of strike mandate vote results beyond asserting “almost 70 percent of voting members” were in favour.

Meanwhile, the union has also launched its annual call for applications to its Josie Gould Memorial scholarship fund. The fund offers bursaries of between $1,000 and $3,000 toward post-secondary education.

This year’s selection process requires that students write an essay answering the question: “Why do you think it is necessary at times for unions to take strike action?”

Applicants must also discuss the impact of strikes on unions, their members, and employers. The deadline is June 29.