By Scott Price
Thirty-one municipal workers, who do a range of jobs from office administration, ground and facility maintenance, by-law enforcement, lifeguards and pool attendants, in the town of Hay River, Northwest Territories have entered into their fifth month of walking a picket line for a contract with the town.
The Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and the town of Hay River have gone back and forth with three rounds of bargaining since the strike began on February 9th. Recently, the UNW took the towns latest offer to the membership and the offer was overwhelmingly rejected. Caitlin Lacey, assistant to the president of UNW told Rankandfile.ca in an interview that the town has improved its offer but the members have consistently voted for a better settlement than the employer has offered.
Adding to the issue of wage increases there have also been a number of tactics used by the mayor and council of Hay River during the strike that has not lent itself to good faith bargaining.
In early June the union has said that it will not sign an agreement without a back-to-work agreement as part of the contract. The town has refused even though back-to-work agreements are fairly common. The town has stated publicly that it could lay off some workers after the strike. Mayor Andrew Cassidy has said that the town will withdraw any offer unless the union agrees to vote on the offer without any additional conditions.
In February, the mayor wrote a letter urging members to go back to work and said that members that decided to cross the picket line would be fired by the union and that the town would protect them. The mayor also offered to waive union dues to members who crossed the picket line.
Adding to the tense situation, the town of Hay River has also hired scab workers to do ground maintenance work, and the running of a summer camp for kids. Mayor Cassidy and council are now putting out ads for more replacement workers for administrative and financial services as well as the operation and maintenance of a recreation centre.
The UNW have repeatedly offered to submit the dispute to binding arbitration but the town has refused every time. Caitlin Lacey told Rank and File that the members will continue to hold out for a fair settlement.
The striking Hay River workers have also recently announced that they will be expanding their picket lines to the homes of town councillors and an UNW worker that has scabbed.