Union declines City of Yellowknife's offer to enter binding arbitration

Strikers on the picket line outside Yellowknife City Hall on Feb. 17. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)
Strikers on the picket line outside Yellowknife City Hall on Feb. 17. (Walter Strong/CBC - image credit)

The municipal strike that began Feb. 8 in Yellowknife will not be ending soon.

The unions representing city workers declined the city's offer, made late Thursday, to enter into binding arbitration.

Binding arbitration means both parties present their case, and are bound by whatever decision the arbitrator makes. The city said Thursday that if the union agreed to binding arbitration, staff would go back to work and city programs would start up again.

But that won't be happening.

"We are disappointed that the request was made public before the bargaining team had a chance to meet with members, assess, and respond," the unions wrote in a press release Friday.

The release was signed by Union of Northern Workers president Gayla Thunstrom and Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice-president North for the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The pair also wrote that they are "still hopeful" that they can "bring the employer back to the table and get them to move on wages."

Mayor, councillor take sides

In a Facebook post, Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty expressed disappointment with the union response.

"The Union walked away from the table 11 days ago, and hasn't reached out to come back and resume negotiations since," her post reads.

She writes that staff have been back and work, and programs and services running at full capacity, if arbitration had been accepted.

"The Union's desire to continue to negotiate — which they haven't had a desire to do in the past 11 days — prolongs the strike," Alty wrote.

Yellowknife city councillor, Ben Hendriksen, wrote on Facebook that he too felt "extreme disappointment" at the union's rejection of binding arbitration.

"This was an opportunity for City employees to return to work and to have services important to all Yellowknifers open again as soon as possible," Hendriksen wrote.

"The tangible solution of arbitration is and remains available. I hope with reconsideration that this solution is soon agreed as the path forward."

Wages at issue

The union most recently proposed a 3.75 per cent wage increase starting Jan. 1, 2022, and a 3.75 per cent wage increase starting Jan. 1, 2023. It had previously asked for five per cent for 2022, and three per cent for 2023.

The city's offer is a two per cent increase for 2022, and two per cent for 2023.

Strikers appeared to be off the picket line Friday morning, as they were last Friday morning. It was not immediately clear why.

Approximately 205 city workers are on strike.