Injunction bars Yellowknife workers from impeding access to city sites
Unionized workers with the City of Yellowknife were still on picket lines Wednesday after bargaining teams failed to reach a deal on a new collective agreement and a court injunction restricted their strike action.
Justice Andrew Mahar of the Northwest Territories Supreme Court granted an order Tuesday that prevents Union of Northern Workers members from obstructing access to sites where the city operates for 10 days.
That includes the public pool, curling club, solid waste facility, multiplex, field house and city hall.
The order prevents more than six people from picketing at those locations and says any delay to entering those sites should only be to convey information and cannot last more than 10 minutes.
The city filed for the injunction claiming wait times for vehicles delayed by picketing workers were increasing and, if not addressed, could cause irreparable harm.
The court order was granted ex parte, meaning it was made without input from the union.
Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada North, who was in Yellowknife supporting workers on Wednesday, said the unions and striking workers planned to follow the court order.
Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who was also in Yellowknife, added that the union plans to fight the injunction.
“What it is is basically an infringement on workers’ rights,” he said.
“The injunction is not going to stop the strike. We’re not going to start taking down picket lines because of the injunction.”
Unionized workers have been locked out by the city and on strike since Feb. 8.
The city and the union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, began bargaining in May but talks broke down late last year and workers voted to strike last month.
The parties then agreed to re-enter mediated negotiations but a lockout and strike ensued after the union rejected the city’s offer. Further talks earlier this week failed.
In an affidavit filed in support of the injunction, Kerry Thistle, director of economic development and strategy with the city, wrote that pickets blocking access to city property appeared to be escalating.
Thistle’s affidavit included emails from the project manager for Clark Builders, which is constructing Yellowknife’s new aquatic centre, to city staff regarding delayed access to the site due to picketing workers. He said the company planned to seek compensation from the city to cover the cost of delays and expressed concern that concrete could become unusable if delayed too long.
“The risk of this continuing behaviour is that we will have contractors who are not willing to come to work for personal safety issues,” he wrote.
Other affidavits from city staff expressed concern about garbage trucks being delayed from entering and exiting the solid waste facility.
The previous collective agreement between the city and union expired at the end of 2021.
The city has said its offer to the union includes base wage increases of two per cent per year for 2022 and 2023. The union, according to the city, had been seeking a five per cent raise in 2022 and three per cent raise in 2023 among other benefits.
The city claims the union’s offer totals more than $1.6 million over what it has budgeted for 2023, which it said would result in an additional 4.79 per cent increase to property taxes.
Aylward, however, said the city ended 2021 with a surplus of more than $15 million.
“These members are asking for a fair wage increase. That’s it. They’re not asking for the moon and the stars.”
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