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Labour unrest hits South Slave
Unionized employees of Fort Smith Housing Authority reject final offer; 90 per cent of Town of Hay River employees vote to strike

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Friday, January 16, 2015

Two groups of unionized workers have voted in favour of taking strike action in the South Slave.

NNSL photo/graphic

Todd Parsons: president of the Union of Northern Workers says unionized employees of the Fort Smith Housing Authority may go on strike this month. - NNSL file photo

In Fort Smith, eight Housing Authority workers have rejected their employer's final offer after months of contract negotiations, paving the way for a possible strike.

"That was rejected unanimously by the membership," said Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), adding all eight workers voted to reject the offer during a Jan. 8 meeting.

Parsons, who was in Fort Smith for the vote, predicted a strike may happen before the end of the month, although the exact date is yet to be determined.

In the Hub, 90 per cent of workers for the Town of Hay River who attended a UNW meeting on Jan. 12 voted to strike. Strike action could be taken by Feb. 6 and would affect roughly 30 employees with the town.

The union president said the Fort Smith Housing Authority's final offer was put to the workers after negotiations broke down and an unsuccessful meeting was held with a federal conciliation officer on Dec. 22.

Parsons said the employer suggested to the conciliation officer that the union bring the final offer to the membership.

"The employer was of the mindset that it was a very generous package and the membership as a whole would accept the employer's final offer," he said.

Parsons noted the offer included proposed pay increases of 1.25 per cent in the first year - retroactive to April 1, 2014, since the previous contract expired on March 31, 2014 - 1.25 per cent in 2015 and 1.5 per cent in 2016.

He declined to discuss the wage increases the union is seeking.

"But I can tell you that we're not a great distance apart on the wages," he said.

Parsons noted there are other benefit issues involved in the negotiations, although he declined to elaborate.

In mid-December, a news release from the UNW and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) mentioned union negotiators were fighting proposed changes to leave allowances and housing subsidies.

The UNW is a component of PSAC, which is its certified bargaining agent under the Canada Labour Code.

Attempts by News/North to obtain a comment on the labour situation from the Fort Smith Housing Authority were unsuccessful.

The authority manages and maintains subsidized housing owned by the GNWT in Fort Smith.

The workers include carpenters, plumbers and others, managing about 150 housing units.

The workers first voted unanimously on Dec. 11 in favour of taking strike action and that was reaffirmed on Jan. 8.

No new negotiations have been set between the two sides.

"The union is prepared to return to the table at any point in time that the employer wants to provide us with a fair and reasonable proposal," said Parsons.

The two sides had been negotiating for nearly six months.

- with files from Sarah Ladik

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