Strike end in sight

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo Dave Ryan, left, Shelby Lawrence, Mark Stephens, Samantha Scheper and Emma Harper celebrate outside town hall hours after the vote was cast to ratify council's latest offer, potentially ending the strike.

Sarah Ladik/NNSL photo
Dave Ryan, left, Shelby Lawrence, Mark Stephens, Samantha Scheper and Emma Harper celebrate outside town hall hours after the vote was cast to ratify council’s latest offer, potentially ending the strike.

Both town and union representatives are eager to end the labour dispute that has consumed the town for the past six months.

“The offer was overwhelmingly accepted,” said Rachel Yee, who is one of the 31 town employees who have been on strike since Feb. 9. “We’re hoping to be able to return to work in the near future, and hopefully the transition will go smoothly, with little animosity.”

Before that can happen, town council has to ratify the agreement as well. Although they did propose the latest offer – two per cent for the first two years of the contract and 1.75 per cent for the third – there is always a chance they could change their minds.

“We’re looking at scheduling a special meeting Wednesday to address this, so we should know by Wednesday night,” Mayor Andrew Cassidy told The Hub. “Council will be reviewing the offer and then we’ll go forward with the ratification vote.”

While previous forays towards votes had been held up by questions about the return to work agreement, with employees worried about their fellows who may be out of a contract, Cassidy said that this time, negotiations were limited to the wage increase.

“I’m looking forward to going back and running programs,” said Emma Harper, the recreation co-ordinator for the town. “I want to get back to doing what I’m qualified to do, what I went to school for. I’m excited to get everything back on track. I can’t wait.”

Municipal workers have been on strike since Feb. 9 over wage increases. A news release from the Union of Northern Workers was issued Friday after the vote, criticizing the town.

“This employer used every harsh tactic to break the union, even including replacement workers,” said UNW president Todd Parsons in the release. “Our members stood up to the assault, remained strong and united, and won a fair settlement. This was their fight and the NWT labour movement is stronger as a result of their courage.”

The new agreement, if ratified, will expire Dec. 31 2016 and will replace the agreement which ended Dec. 31, 2013. The pay raises associated with the new agreement will be retroactive. Originally, union members were demanding three per cent per year while council originally offered one per cent per year.

“It’s getting us back to work, which is all we’ve ever wanted,” said Samantha Scheper, a lifeguard for the town. “Now we’re just waiting for council to agree.”

Cassidy, however, said that even in the event that council agrees to finalize the offer, there will be a lot of work left to do.

“It’s going to take a lot of effort to start repairing the relationships between management, council and the staff, as well as get everyone up to speed on the last six months,” he said.

For her part, Yee said she hoped the conclusion to the strike would come quickly so the community could get back to regular life.

“Hopefully, the community can get back to normal,” she said.

–Sarah Ladik