With delegates from all over the territory in town, the municipal workers still on strike took the opportunity to make their case to a wider audience.
They picketed on the side of the road next to the Pine Point bridge on Friday afternoon while the NWT Association of Communities conference kicked off on the Hay River Reserve. About 20 municipal employees turned out for the effort, carrying signs and playing music while waving as cars passing by.
“Obviously, we’re not going to blockade any place. We have yet to do so anywhere” said Kim Tybring, among those present. “The biggest thing is that it gives us the opportunity to highlight our situation for visitors from all over the territory.”
The union maintains that they have the right to picket the conference because it would have been work their members would have done had they not been on strike. Originally, the Town of Hay River was set to host the conference, but when the union said they would picket the event no matter where it was hosted within town boundaries, the association of communities decided to move it across the river to the Hay River Reserve.
Members of councils from Inuvik, Fort Smith, and Fort Simpson boycotted the conference on the basis of not wanting to cross a picket line as it was work that was being picketed as opposed to a physical building.
“It was really nice for us to see a number of councils in Inuvik, Simpson, and Smith respecting our picket line and respecting our work,” said Emma Harper, who also picketed at the Pine Point bridge.
Mayor Andrew Cassidy, however, took umbrage with the union’s premise, arguing that the municipality no longer had anything to do with the conference, rendering the claim that employees would have done the work void.
“This is the K’atlodeeche First Nation and the NWTAC. This has nothing to do with the Town of Hay River,” he told The Hub. “They made the decision to move the conference because of the strike.”
Cassidy said the municipality contributed no funds to hosting the conference and was not a sponsor of the event.
“It only would have been work done by town employees if it had been in Hay River, and it’s not,” he said.
Despite the local controversy, association of communities CEO Sara Brown said the annual conference drew more communities than usual, along with a remarkable number of individual participants.
“We have 80 seats around the table and 175 registered for the conference as a whole” she said, adding that typically the event draws 23 or 24 communities with this year’s haul coming in at 27, crediting the partnership with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs good governance conference held on the reserve earlier in the week.
Union officials noted that while there may be more communities, they are missing some of the larger ones in Inuvik and Fort Smith.
“You always want a balance between the different sized communities,” Brown said. “But all our communities are of equal value here, we don’t favour one type over another.”