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Northern union's office staff could strike – Union cuts staff benefits, adds pressure


Ten office employees of the Union of Northern Workers, which represents territorial government staff, could serve strike notice this week over the issue of job classifications.

The staff, who work at the union’s headquarters in Yellowknife, are represented by the United Steelworkers. The last collective agreement expired in March.

The Steelworkers local rejected what was called a final offer, negotiated earlier this month with the help of a federally appointed mediator, because it did not include a formal job classification system.

“What we have right now is a system that allows for the employer to change our duties without any consultation with us,” local president Ken Howie told CBC News.

“The workload can be multiplied by 10 and there’s no recourse for the employees and an ability to limit that.”

Because it rejected the final negotiated offer, the office workers’ union would be in a position to serve 72 hours’ strike notice this week.

Howie said it is rare for a union to disagree with another union as happened in this case, especially since the Union of Northern Workers has helped other employees secure job classification systems.

“We were a little shocked that we got so much push-back over a classification system,” he said.

Benefits to be cut next week

Union of Northern Workers president Todd Parsons said it plans to replace the expired contract with benefits provided by the Northwest Territories Employment Standards Act as of next Monday.

That means the workers will continue to get their existing salaries, but will not receive a number of benefits starting next week.

“They wouldn’t be earning RRSP contributions. They wouldn’t have access to paid leave, such as sick leave or special leave, those types of things. They would earn less annual leave,” Parsons said Monday.

“So it really would be significant pressure that’s now being placed on our employees and their union to try to resolve this.”

Parsons said he is very aware that employers across the N.W.T. will be watching the labour situation closely. He also acknowledged that his union would be crying foul if any other employer scaled back benefits to its workers.

At the same time, he said staff at the Union of Northern Workers office have been offered a good pay increase.

“This is a very difficult situation that we’re placed in right now as an employer, and I certainly don’t feel good about it,” he said.

“But as an employer, I also am obligated to protect the members of the Union of Northern Workers. And unfortunately, I am not in a position where we could sell the farm.”

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