Contract talks between Yukon gov't and employees hit a wall

The Yukon government's main administration building in Whitehorse. Talks between the government and its employees' union have reached an impasse, more than a year after the last contract expired. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)
The Yukon government's main administration building in Whitehorse. Talks between the government and its employees' union have reached an impasse, more than a year after the last contract expired. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)

Contract negotiations have broken down between the Yukon government and its unionized employees, more than a year after the last contract expired.

"We can't get common ground on a few things, neither side is willing to give up those things. So here we are, and we're at an impasse," said Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees Union (YEU) which represents more than 4,000 Yukon government employees.

The two sides have been in talks off-and-on since late 2021 and had been meeting with a federally-appointed mediator last week before reaching an impasse. The last contract expired in December 2021.

The union says "monetary issues" are the main sticking point.

"What we take to the bargaining table for demands is driven by what the membership wants," Geick said.

"This is the longest I've seen [negotiations] take in the last, close to 20 years."

A spokesperson for the Public Service Commission (PSC) — which acts as the government's employer — said in an emailed statement on Friday that it still favours a "negotiated resolution which is in the interests of the government, its employees and the Yukon public."

"We have made proposals which we believe fairly recognize the important work done by all YEU members," the statement reads.

Now the federal labour relations board will appoint a committee, with representatives from both sides, to make recommendations for how to break the stalemate.

New minister appointed

Also on Friday, the YEU said in a news release that it was "optimistic" that a change in leadership at the PSC would help move things along. On the weekend, former premier Sandy Silver took over from John Streicker as minister responsible for the PSC, named to the post by Premier Ranj Pillai.

Pillai said on Monday morning that he hoped a deal was not far off, but also suggested that government services such as health care, education and housing are very expensive.

"We are in a time where the federal government is signaling austerity measures. We have less resources but are being asked to do more," he said.

"I think that we'll get there [to a deal]. There'll be some pressure until we get there — and that is what negotiation of this type looks like."

The opposition Yukon Party, meantime, said in a news release on Sunday that the two sides must get back to the bargaining table.

"The public service has been instrumental as the Yukon has navigated through the pandemic over the past few years," said Yukon Party MLA Yvonne Clarke said in a written statement.

"They have also been without a new contract for over a year and are looking to be compensated for their efforts."