Iqaluit Housing Authority, Nunavut Employees Union negotiations reach an impasse

Jason Rochon is the president of the Nunavut Employees Union. (Jacqueline McKay/CBC - image credit)
Jason Rochon is the president of the Nunavut Employees Union. (Jacqueline McKay/CBC - image credit)

Nunavut Employees Union representatives and the Iqaluit Housing Authority are at a stalemate when it comes to negotiating a new collective agreement.

Jason Rochon, president of the Nunavut Employees Union (NEU), said the parties, including the union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Iqaluit Housing Authority (IHA), held negotiations over four days from Aug. 16 to 19.

But, he said, the parties reached an impasse on Aug. 18.

"Things didn't go as well as we hoped," Rochon said. "We still had another day to negotiate, but it just wasn't going well."

Rochon said IHA refused to withdraw concessionary demands that would have resulted in "significant losses to members."

The union said those concessions included a "threat" to withhold retroactive pay if a tentative agreement was not reached during the week of negotiations and/or if the union filed for conciliation. NEU said IHA also proposed a five-year agreement "with economic increases significantly below the inflation rates for Iqaluit."

"The employer was trying to hold retro [pay] over our heads and force us into taking a deal that would have left a bad taste in our members' mouths," said Rochon. "And, it didn't take into account inflation."

Fair pay, housing allowances

Rochon said some of the items the NEU has been pushing for include what it considers fair pay, and increases to programs like parental leave.

"These are things that we usually always negotiate when we're at a table because we know that the cost of living is so high," he said.

Rochon said IHA wanted to remove articles on settlement allowances, housing allowances and vacation travel assistant, to replace them with a Nunavut Northern Allowance, which the union said offers a lesser benefit than the previous allowances.

Rochon said the IHA also wanted to reduce provisions for casual employees, including sick leave.

"We wanted to just make sure that our members felt that they deserve a little bit better," he said. "We think that it's time for an agency to rethink their approach to negotiations."

Rochon said IHA is "putting the sustenance of predominantly Inuit employees and their families in jeopardy."

And he said the agency's "refusal to verbally negotiate at the table was quite concerning."

A news release from PSAC/NEU says that "a threatening pattern has been established in bargaining with Nunavut Housing Corp.-sponsored housing associations/authorities across Nunavut in recent years," adding that it's "clear that this public agency of the government of Nunavut is behind it."

CBC reached out to IHA for comment but did not receive a response before deadline.

"To all members, I want to say that PSAC North has your back," said Lorraine Rousseau, PSAC North regional executive vice president, in the release.

"PSAC/NEU bargaining team is strong, and members will not be intimidated to accept any unfair deal."

Rochon said they filed for conciliation on Aug. 22. He said the next steps involve appointing a conciliator to help the parties reach an agreement.

"And, if we don't reach an agreement, we are going to look at getting a strike vote," he said.

Rochon said fewer than 30 employees work for Iqaluit Housing Authority. He's hoping a strike isn't necessary.