Territory and union pick mediator, talks unlikely till fall
The territorial government and Union of Northern Workers have agreed on a mediator to join their collective bargaining negotiations, the union said.
The identity of the mediator has not been disclosed as the deal has not been finalized, but an informal agreement has been reached. The mediator is not based in the North.
"We have agreed to who the mediator will be on the file," Todd Parsons, the union's president, told Cabin Radio.
"We’re trying to find dates – when you have such large bargaining teams, sometimes it’s hard to come up with agreeable dates that will meet everybody’s interests. We should be able to return to the table some time early in the fall."
In an extensive interview, Parsons refused to elaborate on the contentious results of a strike mandate vote held earlier this year; reiterated his call for the territory to slash infrastructure development in order to fund higher wages; and discussed the union's decision to replace the executive at one of its biggest Locals.
The union says just under 70 percent of members who voted chose to back a strike mandate in a vote held earlier this year.
Pressed to reveal how many members voted, Parsons refused to elaborate, saying such secrecy conferred a strategic bargaining advantage on the union – even if it damaged the vote's credibility.
"We’re not going to release the statistics on the results of the strike vote, other than to come out and say almost 70 percent of the members that actually voted gave a mandate to the union’s bargaining team," said Parsons.
Asked how many members did not vote, Parsons replied: "I don’t have those numbers, I’m not going to share those. That’s a strategic decision made by our negotiating team.
"We will release those results at a certain point in time. We will do that at a point in time where we think that is not going to impact the negotiation of a new collective agreement.
"Turnout at the strike votes was something very favourable. It’s just a choice the union has made. We are not going to release the actual numbers around the strike vote process. It’s almost 70 percent, we’re not actually saying it is 70 percent. It’s a normal strike vote process to not share information until such time as the matter is resolved."
The territory and the union have been locked in a bargaining dispute since 2016, centred on year-on-year wage increases. The territorial government is proposing a two-year wage freeze followed by annual increases of around one percent each; the union is asking for yearly increases of three percent.
This year, Parsons' strategy has been to suggest the territory cut back on infrastructure spending to allow what he calls a "balanced approach," in which some of that money goes to higher salaries.
Throughout, the territorial government has maintained it is in no financial position to meet the union's demands, accusing the union of mischaracterizing the amounts of money available.
Asked which infrastructure projects he would cut to make room for higher salaries, Parsons said: "I would start with some roads and maybe not invest as heavily into roads.
"The government said they would like to invest in 1,000 km of highway. I could arbitrarily pick 500 km of road and also invest in the public service."
Several months have passed since the union stepped in to remove the executive of Local 1, a branch representing the majority of Yellowknife-based territorial government workers.
At the time, the union said the executive was failing to issue documentation on time, communicate effectively with members, or keep accurate financial records. The Local's leadership was replaced by senior UNW members acting as trustees.
"The UNW executive decided that local needed extra attention and assistance so they decided to put the local into trusteeship," said Parsons on Monday.
"Sometimes people sign up and don’t understand the responsibilities they’ve signed up for. It’s more than they anticipated. We’re trying to come in and help."
Asked how the Local could have effectively participated in the strike mandate vote, given the apparent lack of leadership it enjoyed at the time, Parsons said: "That was a struggle that we had [but] Local 1 was represented very, very well. The turnout from Local 1 members carried much of the strike mandate."