It’s a deal: union members, Iqaluit city council say yes to wage-benefit pact

Union makes “concessions,” but details won’t be released until after signing


Nunavut Employees Union workers demonstrate outside Iqaluit city hall in August 2016, during negotiations over a new wage-benefit deal that, after nearly two years, now appears close to being resolved. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut Employees Union workers demonstrate outside Iqaluit city hall in August 2016, during negotiations over a new wage-benefit deal that, after nearly two years, now appears close to being resolved. (FILE PHOTO)

(Updated Dec. 18, 9:30 a.m.)

The City of Iqaluit’s unionized workers have ratified a new wage-benefit deal with their employer after nearly two years of negotiations.

A majority of the membership of Local 6 of the Nunavut Employees Union, which represents more than 100 workers, said yes to what the union said is an “eleventh-hour agreement” reached with the help of a mediator, in a vote held this past Thursday evening and Friday afternoon.

The NEU is a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, also known as PSAC.

The last collective agreement between the two sides expired two year ago on Dec. 31, 2015. The new four-year agreement expires in two years, at the end of 2019.

The NEU and the city reached the agreement with the help of a federal government mediator who started working with the two sides last September

The parties reached a tentative agreement late in the afternoon on Thursday, Dec. 14.

Union officials said the deal does not give them everything they wanted, but that it avoids the necessity of a strike.

“We cannot really say we are pleased with this agreement, as it is filled with concessions that will have a negative impact on new city employees,” Bill Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union, said in a news release.

“However, we are pleased that we were able to avoid a prolonged and unnecessary strike that would not have been in the interests of our members or the citizens of Iqaluit,” he said.

In 2001, a bitter, 91-day lockout and strike paralyzed the city and led to enormous mounds of uncollected garbage piled in front of the city hall building and other locations around Iqaluit between April and July that year.

Union officials also said the new agreement does not deal with morale-killing work schedules at the city’s emergency services department.

“We need to be able to work together on many important issues, such as impractical, fatigue-inducing schedules that are affecting the health, safety and morale of emergency services workers,” said Jack Bourassa, the vice president of PSAC North, in a news release.

“The city itself has identified the risks to employees and potentially the public and this issue was not addressed in this agreement. We need to get moving on these kinds of crucial issues,” he said.

Neither side has released details of the agreement, including a description of the concessions that the union made, or any information about monetary items.

Unionized employees met Thursday at the Anglican Parish Hall for a first round of voting, and for an information session on the specifics of the potential new deal.

They held a second round of voting on Friday at 2 p.m. and began counting votes at 4 p.m.

At the same time, city councillors gathered for a closed-door session, where they voted in favour of the agreement.

“They came out and passed a motion to ratify the collective agreement,” city spokesperson Angela Spitzer said.

Talks have been ongoing since January 2016, but little compromise had been reached, until this week.

“It was a really hard-fought battle for the bargaining team,” where the city at first would not bend, Fennell said. “They’ve come a long way since then through the mediator.”

“I would like to thank the mayor and council for stepping in and assisting and getting a deal. The council looked at the package and directed the city staff to make an offer, which was accepted.”

Tension reached a peak in March of last year, after a wage freeze and benefit reduction was imposed on non-unionized workers.

The freeze, meant to help curb the city’s deficit, led to a letter-burning protest in front of city hall.

“I am pleased that the city and union were able to reach an agreement that is fair and equitable, and reflects the prudent management of public funds,” Muhamud Hassan, the city’s chief administrative officer, said in a news release.

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