No deal: bargaining between union and City of Iqaluit nears two-year mark

“The city employees have lived in fear for the last two years of their jobs”

By BETH BROWN

About 50 City of Iqaluit employees took turns throwing copies of a wage-freeze letter they got from their employer into a burning oil drum, March 30, in front of city hall. (FILE PHOTO)


About 50 City of Iqaluit employees took turns throwing copies of a wage-freeze letter they got from their employer into a burning oil drum, March 30, in front of city hall. (FILE PHOTO)

Bill Fennell has one wish for the coming holiday season: that the City of Iqaluit will come through on a new wage-benefit deal that is nearly two years in the making.

December will bring the next step in what the president of the Nunavut Employees Union called a “way-too-long bargaining process,” in which an employee bargaining team, city representatives and a federal conciliator will take another shot at settling a contract for unionized city workers.

“That they come to the table and bargain meaningfully … that’s my Christmas wish,” Fennel told Nunatsiaq News, referring to city administrators.

The conciliation meetings are scheduled to take place during the week of Dec. 11.

Unionized municipal employees have been in talks with the city to create a new collective bargaining agreement since January 2016, but haven’t made much progress.

The new agreement would clearly state employee rights to benefits such as healthcare, pensions and vacation days.

“We’re now two years in and we are not getting anywhere,” Fennel said, adding that the tension impacts employee moral.

“The city employees have lived in fear for the last two years of their jobs. Members are laid off indiscriminately, they’re intimidated. It’s not a healthy workplace at all.”

But the city has yet to change its position on the agreement, or show room for compromise, Fennell said.

“They just aren’t bargaining,” Fennell said. “The members would really like to settle this and get it done. They want to get a deal and they hope that the employer will come to the table.”

The City of Iqaluit had little to say in the lead up to Dec. 11 resumption of negotiations.

“The city will continue to negotiate with the Employees Union until a new [wage-benefit deal] is reached,” said a city spokesperson, in a Nov. 17 emailed statement.

“The city’s employees provide a high-level of professional service to residents, that has remained constant. The city appreciates the union’s right to mobilize its members.”

Tension between employees and employer erupted in March 2016 after a wage freeze and benefit reduction was imposed on non-unionized workers.

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

The NEU is now taking suggestions from unionized city staff on how they want to raise awareness about the coming talks this time around.

“At this point we are considering how best to focus public attention on your situation and how we stand united in our efforts to secure fair remuneration and treatment for those that make Iqaluit work,” the NEU told city employees in a Nov. 15 letter sent as a lead-up to the coming bargaining talks.

“We are looking at the possibility of public rallies, campaigns and other ways we can make sure that the people of Iqaluit know what is going on with the workers and fellow residents who keep this city going.”

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