Upwards of 4,000 unionized Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) workers are set to go on strike at midnight on Sunday.
That’s according to Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), who says the union has notified the territorial government of its strike intentions.
He held a news conference at the UNW building in Yellowknife Tuesday afternoon announcing the deadline along with about 20 union local presidents from across the territory.
Parsons says both the union and the government will be meeting with a mediator Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday in a last ditch effort to try to reach a new collective agreement.
“We remain very committed to reaching a tentative agreement with this employer but time is running out,” Parsons said. “We need the government to understand that we are not bluffing. We are prepared to engage in a full and general strike.”
Parsons says the union has worked hard to avoid a strike including an offer to the government to enter into binding arbitration which he says the government refused.
Wages and job security are said to be the key sticking points in negotiations.
The union has reportedly asked for a three-per-cent annual wage increase over the life of the contract.
The government reportedly responded by proposing a one-per-cent increase in 2018 and a 1.1-per-cent increase in 2019.
Parsons would not divulge what went on in mediation the last time the two sides met suggesting that releasing any of those details to the media could compromise this weekend’s talks.
He added that the union does not intend to present the government’s latest proposal to the union members to vote on before the Sunday strike deadline.
The workers have been without as contract since the current collective agreement expired in 2016.
Parsons says he believes the union’s resolve is strong.
“We have a lot of strike support. We’ve been consulting with our members for more than the last two months. Our members’ number one question has been when to start a strike not whether to start a strike.”
Parsons says any building that houses government offices is a potential picket target.
He adds workers are expected to picket for at least four hours a day or perform other union duties in order to receive daily strike pay of $117.
Parsons was in the legislative assembly earlier in the day as the current sitting kicked off. He said he believed the premier saw the union reps in the public gallery and deliberately did not mention the contract negotiations in his opening speech.
In the assembly, Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne said settling the labour dispute must be the government’s number one priority right now.