Details released of deal between City of Iqaluit and union

But firefighters’ morale-killing work schedule remains unaddressed

By BETH BROWN

Bill Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union, is seen here at a rally in March 2016 in front of city hall where city workers burned a letter from their bosses freezing wages and benefits. The city and union finally reached an agreement, after two years of talks, in December. The deal will see a wage increase over the next two years and a $200 cut made to vacation travel assistance, though existing employees will be eligible for a second travel allowance after five years of employment. (FILE PHOTO)


Bill Fennell, president of the Nunavut Employees Union, is seen here at a rally in March 2016 in front of city hall where city workers burned a letter from their bosses freezing wages and benefits. The city and union finally reached an agreement, after two years of talks, in December. The deal will see a wage increase over the next two years and a $200 cut made to vacation travel assistance, though existing employees will be eligible for a second travel allowance after five years of employment. (FILE PHOTO)

The details are out for the City of Iqaluit’s new wage-benefit agreement with the Nunavut Employees Union.

Unionized city employees will see a wage increase over the life of the negotiated agreement, consisting of a 1.5 per cent wage increase in year three of the four-year agreement and a 2.5 per cent increase in year four.

And, since the retroactive agreement started when the previous benefit agreement expired on Dec. 31, 2015, the contract is already in its third year as of Jan. 1, 2018.

The first two years of the new agreement—which are now past—see a zero per cent wage increase, meaning current employees will not get a payout for potential wage increases stalled by the negotiations.

These negotiations spanned two years and included a contentious strike and a second round of negotiations that required a federal mediator.

In December, the city and its unionized employees reached a tentative agreement on the new terms of their wage-benefit agreement. But, at the time, parties wouldn’t publicly discuss the agreement’s details.

Now, Bill Fennell, the NEU’s president, said that while it will take some time for an official document to be drawn up and publicly released, the two main take-aways of the new agreement deal with these percentage wage increases and with vacation travel assistance.

While the increase beats the zero per cent offered during the initial round of negotiations, it amounts to almost half of wage increases gained over the course of the previous agreement, Fennell said.

The new agreement also introduces a tiered employee system, when it comes to travel assistance.

Under the new agreement, existing city employees will be granted vacation travel assistance for two trips annually, up from one, once they have been working for the city for five years.

But new employees won’t get that five-year perk.

“And, they did take a $200 hit on the amount of the VTA. It was $2,200 and now it’s $2,000,” Fennell said, adding that the tiered settlement marks the largest concession made by the union.

“Unions never like to bargain two tier, where one group gets more than the other,” he said. “My understanding is, it was this or go on strike.”

One issue the NEU is identifying as not addressed by the new agreement is the work schedule of Iqaluit’s firefighters, which is being blamed for sagging morale and increased burn-out.

When broached, it was decided to leave the issue for later discussions, Fennell said.

The long hours worked by firefighters was raised at a 2016 city town hall, and again in November at the city’s annual town hall meeting, where councillors could not say what has been done in the past year to address firefighter fatigue and support.

“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,” said Jack Bourassa, the vice-president of PSAC North, in a news release following the tentative agreement.

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

“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 past news release.

The new wage-benefit agreement will expire at the end of 2019.

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