Unionized staff at Iqaluit Housing Authority go on strike over wages

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Unionized staff with the Iqaluit Housing Authority formed a picket line in chilly temperatures outside the housing office in the Nunavut capital Friday morning, demanding better wages.

The Nunavut Employees Union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada North, served the housing authority strike notice Monday, saying wage increases being offered by the employer do not reflect the cost of living in the city given inflation.

The unions said they were served with a lockout notice by the housing authority Wednesday.

The Nunavut Employees Union said about 13 staff are affected. It adds the housing authority is "horribly understaffed" and some employees have left for better paying jobs, placing added stress on those who remain.

The housing authority is responsible for delivering the Nunavut Housing Corporation's public housing program in Iqaluit and managing and maintaining its assets in the city.

The corporation said in a statement its priority is to maintain service delivery for tenants. It said the housing authority has contingency plans to ensure critical maintenance services continue during the labour dispute.

"We remain confident that the Iqaluit Housing Authority is committed to finding a resolution to the dispute in a respectful and constructive manner," the statement reads.

The unions said the housing authority tabled wage increases around 1.2 and 1.5 per cent per year.

The consumer price index in Iqaluit increased 2.1 per cent between January 2021 and 2022, and 3.4 per cent between January 2022 and 2023.

"We are looking for a fair increase in salaries to be able to afford the increasing cost of living," said plumber and union bargaining team member Nicky Nauyuk.

"A deal will not be possible if it means the deterioration of our current benefits and salaries that are making it hard for current staff to remain working at Iqaluit Housing."

“No one wants to be outside picketing, especially if it gets brutally cold again here in Iqaluit,” Nunavut Employees Union president Jason Rochon said in a statement earlier this week.

“However, when you are dealing with an employer who has shown no signs of any honest commitment to reaching a fair agreement on wages, you are left with no options and that is why we are where we are at this point.”

The unions wrote Thursday to Lorne Kusugak, the minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, asking him to step in to resolve the impasse and to take a long-term review of the corporation's mandate to ensure all local housing organizations provide fair compensation.

The unions said the housing corporation is responsible for allocating funds for the operational budgets of all housing associations in Nunavut.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.

-- By Emily Blake in Yellowknife


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press