Unionized employees of the City of Yellowknife have voted to go on strike as early as next month, if a new deal can't be reached.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that members of PSAC Local X0345 had voted "by an overwhelming majority" on Tuesday in favour of a strike mandate. The union did not provide any more specific information on the vote results.
The union represents most City of Yellowknife employees. The last contract expired in December 2021.
Collective bargaining broke down last month after the parties met with a federally-appointed conciliator, but failed to reach an agreement.
An email from city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett to more than 200 city employees that same week said the city was offering, among other things, a two per cent increase on salary retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022, and a two per cent increase effective Jan. 1, 2023.
The union hasn't said publicly what wage increases and other items it's asking for.
A strike vote does not mean a strike will happen. The earliest unionized employees could walk off the job is Feb. 8.
"We'd prefer the employer come to the table and negotiate a fair deal in good faith," reads a statement on Wednesday from UNW president Gayla Thunstrom, and Lorraine Rousseau of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
The city issued a news release on Wednesday afternoon saying the city "remains committed to the bargaining process and negotiation of a collective agreement."
The release also said the city is in the process of planning for the possibility of a strike, although no details were provided on what that would look like.
CBC News had scheduled an interview with Bassi-Kellett for the day after the strike vote. Bassi-Kellett cancelled Wednesday afternoon. Her spokesperson said "other pressing business" had come up.
Unfair labour practice complaint
Austin Marshall, a labour and employment lawyer in Yellowknife, read both of Bassi-Kellett's emails.
He said filing a complaint means the issue will go before a labour board, which will determine whether this was a violation of the union's collective bargaining.
He said the city will likely try to convince the labour board that the email was just relevant information being passed on.
While Marshall said it's up to the board to decide, he saw a few noteworthy aspects to the email.
"What strikes me... about this message that went out to the members is that it's issued on the eve of the strike vote," he said.
There's also the fact that two emails have been sent.
Marshall said he's never personally been involved in a labour dispute that's become as contentious as this one, but said it reminds him of ones he's heard about.
"Many, many years ago, this kind of thing was going on in the Giant Mine strike," he said.
"It certainly was a case where the two sides were battling to the utmost and the complaints of unfair practices were alleged against the employer."