GN employee union wants collective bargaining to be ‘central issue’ of territorial election

Union president Bill Fennell calls slow pace of negotiations ‘ridiculous’

Government of Nunavut employees are seen picketing in this photo from 2019. Nunavut’s Employee Union president Bill Fennell says the best way to avoid a strike is to have a strong strike mandate ready in case. (File photo)

By Mélanie Ritchot

The Nunavut Employees Union wants its long-running negotiations for a new collective agreement to be a big issue this territorial election.

This is what union president Bill Fennell is urging in an Oct. 1 letter to union members and Nunavut politicians.

The NEU represents all Government of Nunavut employees. As Fennell writes, “nearly one-eighth of Nunavut is an NEU member.”

Its last collective agreement – which determines things like pay, benefits and leave – expired three years ago.

“This is ridiculous,” Fennell said in an interview on Sept. 21. “Three years ago [the GN] said they wanted to get this done quickly.”

On top of raised pay to adjust for inflation and renegotiated benefits, Fennell said employees want things like longer maternity and paternity leave, like federal government workers have negotiated.

Another request is having leave available for members experiencing domestic violence.

“The government doesn’t want to agree to that, which is strange,” said Fennell.

The dispute started in 2019, when the union sued the GN, alleging the government bargained in bad faith when it scaled back how much it would increase the Nunavut northern allowance benefit. The government has said that it had offered a larger amount in error.

In his letter, Fennell said the GN “clawed back” nearly half the original offer on the northern allowance and offered an amount “well below” the rate of inflation.

He said the union was in a position to strike at the time, but decided not to amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our members, despite having received no pay increases, continued to work tirelessly on behalf of the people of Nunavut during this time of crisis,” he wrote.

Both the union and the government fault the other side for holding up negotiations.

When John Main, the MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, asked David Akeeagok, the minister for human resources, about the negotiations in the legislature on Sept. 14, Akeeagok encouraged the union to “get back to the table.”

But, in the interview on Sept. 21, Fennell said the union is waiting on the GN.

His letter also states the union tried to resolve matters in a different way during the pandemic’s peak in Nunavut by offering to go to arbitration, but the government refused.

In arbitration, an impartial third party makes a final decision, aiming to find the middle ground between both groups.

“It was a risk to make such an offer because there is no guarantee that an arbitrator will side with the union,” Fennell writes. “Still, we tried.”

In the legislative assembly on Sept. 14, Main asked Akeeagok why the GN didn’t want to go this route.

Akeeagok said the department prefers to use traditional negotiations.

“[Arbitration] basically means you’re being told what to do, is not the right way,” he said. “It does not work for both parties.”

Fennell’s letter says the union is now “developing mobilization plans” to strike. The union would need to hold another vote before it’s in a legal position to strike.

Fennell said even if employees don’t want to go on strike, being prepared for it might be the best way to avoid picketing.

“Every time we’ve had to do a strike vote — which is just about every time we get a new collective agreement — [I say] the best way to avoid a strike is to give us a strong strike mandate.”

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(32) Comments:

  1. Posted by Where do my dues go? on

    Bless our unresponsive and completely ineffective union… the only time I ever hear from them is when they tell us they have been unable to get a new contract, or they want us to support some woke cause unfolding in Ontario.

    • Posted by Easy on

      “GN employee union wants collective bargaining to be ‘central issue’ of territorial election”.
      Very easy to achieve.
      Go on strike now.

  2. Posted by It’s almost time on

    for a strike! Seriously tho, it’s getting ridiculous. 30% vacancy and jobs that don’t compete on wages for skilled workers. The GN needs to find the budget to make this happen—they are losing more from poor management, poor service and growing risk due to inadequate staffing. The union needs to acknowledge the error made and move on, aggressively pursuing retroactive wage increases reflecting NU CPI. It isn’t rocket science folks, just do some adulting and get it done. Before elections would be great, given the politicians have served no practical use in solving this problem.

    • Posted by Question on

      Where’s the accountability! Maybe someone needs to look at the leadership and ask two questions: Why is there such a huge vacancy rate and what actions are being taken to resolve it? Why are workers without a contract for 3 years and what actions are being taken to address it?

    • Posted by What’s on the table? on

      Even if the union acknowledges the error made, which is ridiculous and embarrassing on the part of the GN, the issue is still that the ‘revised’ northern allowance amounts are not acceptable. Apparently, anyway. It’s not like members are actually allowed to see what’s being offered by both sides.

      • Posted by Broken system! on

        It appears that they are using the job evaluation system to compensate for the high cost of living. Where else in Canada would you be paid $100k a year for doing administrative type of work? If they increase the NNA, maybe a review of the evaluation of positions are needed. My friend is a federal worker and they are paid the same across the country for the same position regardless of where they work. I don’t think they have the same issues with recruitment and retention, If you are an Administrative Assistant in Iqaluit or Vancouver’s their base salary is the same. Their NNA compensates for the high cost of living, and varies depending on remoteness of the community and based on family or single. Can’t help but feel they want their cake and eat it too. Leadership is key to figure out what works for us. Status quo and outdated policies are not working anymore for us.

      • Posted by The table on

        The cost of travel has significantly decreased since the Airline merger and people are getting cheap items on Amazon Prime across most of Nunavut now, not to mention the cost of many items like milk and eggs are actually cheaper in Nunavut than the rest of Canada now. Explain to me again why the NOrthern Allowance needs to be adjusted? Or is it just your personal sense of entitlement?

        Lets be fair, most GN employees are grossly overpaid for their work or lack thereof. A strike would simply show how overly privileged you guys are that it is clouding your sense of reason

        • Posted by Eat at your table on

          People are getting cheap items on Amazon Prime across most of Nunavut? Is Iqaluit most of Nunavut? Wow, I didn’t know.
          What do you mean to explain to you again why the NNA needs to be adjusted? I never said in the first place that it does, even though there hasn’t been an adjustment in around 10 years. I said that’s one of the issues holding things up according to what we’ve been told but that we’re not able to know what the figures are. And if you had read the releases, you’d know that the GN’s proposal was to increase it in some communities and decrease it in others, so it’s a lot more complicated than what you make it out to be.
          How about you look at the big ticket items. How about an hour of labour to fix your vehicle? Have a plumber fix your sink? Ship in flooring or kitchen cabinets to renovate your home, plus the labour to have it installed? The cost to heat a house, or to insure a house for that matter.
          Let’s be fair and you can tell us what you do and how much you make so that we, too, can scrutinize?

  3. Posted by Solidarity Forever on

    Strike Now. Imagine an strike during an election. They would settle immidiately, fearful of not being re-elected.

    • Posted by Out to lunch on

      The detachment and insulation from the realities of Nunavut that are on display in this comment are quite the marvel.

  4. Posted by LBR on

    Looks like the Ladies of Lower Base beat them to the punch.

    Community safety vs more perks for bureaucrats.

    • Posted by Oh please… on

      Alternately, looks like a vision of cosmic narratives battling for grandeur…

  5. Posted by Tom Law on

    The GN is in a lot of trouble on many fronts. Staffing, retention, hiring, staff housing. Good luck. The word is out…..this is not a place you wanna bring yourself to.

  6. Posted by OMG, give me a break! on

    The union had three years to get a deal done, half of the time was without a pandemic. Bill Fennell’s position as president is up for election on Oct. 7. It looks like he’s trying to run for the position again by starting this campaign. This campaign is self-serving. If the union truly cared about its members it would have already signed an agreement, and not taken the GN to court, slowing and complicating the negotiations. Now they want a strike vote as we approach the colder months during a pandemic. This is the true definition of ridiculous! Focus on signing a new agreement instead!

    • Posted by Let’s Make a Deal on

      The GN also had 3 years to get a deal done. Why are you placing all of the blame on the Union? If the GN had come to the table saying, “no changes to the Northern Allowance and a 1% salary decrease every year for 4 years”, and then refused to bargain their position and refused to binding arbitration, would you still blame the Union?
      The fact is, we don’t actually know what’s been offered by both sides. Essentially all we know is that the Union wants a paid week of domestic violence leave and the GN doesn’t. We don’t know is what either side wants for annual increases or what either side wants for Northern Allowances.
      What we do know, is that the GN refused to go to binding arbitration when offered by the Union. When a party refuses to go to binding arbitration, it’s usually a signal that they know what they’re offering is less than fair.
      In my opinion, this is on the GN, not the Union.

  7. Posted by Consistency on

    My favorite part in the article is this that Minister Akeeagok says “[Arbitration] basically means you’re being told what to do, is not the right way,”

    Isnt that all the Ministers do, what ever the DM and ADM tell them to do, its not like many of the ministers have any actually say in what happens, they just speak when told to.

    Which is a problem, the Ministers should tell the DM and ADM what needs to happen, that is why they are elected. And if your candidate isnt up to telling others what to do then they should not be elected or made into a Minister.

  8. Posted by Putting this out there on

    There really isnt anything bad about GN salaries right now. What I think should happen is the Northern Allowance should be tied to two things, Community and number of dependents. One person supporting a family of 7 in the same community should get a better Northern Allowance then a single person with no dependents in that community.

    • Posted by You can’t be serious? on

      If I could dislike this comment 100 times, I would.

      • Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

        You can dislike the above comment one thousand times if you want to but that doesn’t eliminate the fact that the current northern allowance (NNA) does not lead to fair and equitable outcomes in the Nunavut public service.

        It’s always important to be mindful of what the stated purpose of the NNA is. It’s purpose is to address the higher cost of living and travel in the north. It’s not just part of your salary. However, it clearly compensates some employees much better than others. For example a family unit made up of a childless couple who both work for the GN will receive about 30k in NNA. On the other hand, a family unit of five individuals with one GN employee will receive half that amount. Obviously, one family unit is being compensated much better than the other for the high cost of living.

        The current approach has affected the demographics of the public service who come from the south. You will note that individuals who are recruited tend to be rather young or old. Young singles or couples without children and old empty nesters tend to be the individuals recruited to come up because the NNA makes financial sense and is actually lucrative for them. On the other hand, couples with families tend not to come because the NNA doesn’t make sense for them. Is this the kind of public service the GN wants??

        • Posted by All Fair and All Equitable on

          Maybe single people should also receive an additional allowance compared to couples with no children? Single people don’t get to split rent/mortgage, electricity, heat, tax, insurance, municipal, cable, internet, netflix, hotel rooms when they travel, car payments and insurance, household appliances and furniture, and many other things. They also don’t get the Canada Child Benefit or dependent tax deductions like people with children do. Where’s their additional allowance?
          I suppose all jobs everywhere should have different levels of allowances to make things fair and equitable. People living in Toronto and Vancouver get fairly high amounts because housing is expensive, people in Timmins and Prince George get almost nothing, because housing is much more affordable.
          Maybe all jobs everywhere should just pay for all employees’ and their families’ housing, groceries, and travel. Would probably be easiest that way.

          • Posted by Single Life Bills on

            Hey that’s a good point. I’m a single person and if I was splitting all my household bills with a spouse, it would cost me around $20,000 less per year. Where’s my Single Supplement Allowance? Where’s my Canada Single Benefit?

        • Posted by Union Love or Union Hate? on

          I love that half of the comments here are, “the Union is useless and good for nothing”, and the other half are, “Unionized staff are overpaid, entitled, and their job security is too good that they can’t get fired”.
          Damn, if the union was so useless and didn’t do anything, how the hell are the employees paid well with good job security?

          • Posted by Antipathy or Apathy? on

            Interesting point, but both can be true.

            At present the union is almost catatonic in its lack of responsiveness to its members. It has almost no presence in our community or in my workplace, though we have lobbied them for sometime to help set up a shop steward, etc… they occasionally respond that that is a great idea… then disappear for months on end and do not respond to any follow up. They are the perfect pairing for the GN frankly, both seem to function within the same fog of confusion.

            • Posted by Imagine on

              I think there must be an agreement between the GN and the Union that if both parties don’t do anything with the employees, the union is happy, so there is no reason to have an active union, they will leave each other alone. There has to be an underlying reason for the toxicity that has developed in the workplace. Someone is not doing their job. Time to start holding both accountable.

    • Posted by Communism on

      No. This will result in more babies being born. Kind of like how mothers with no jobs keep pumping out babies for bigger child tax checks, which will eventually lead to more complaints about lack of housing in the north. Instead of asking for more from the govt try making responsible choices as an individual.

      • Posted by Putting this out there on

        I dont see that because first you need a GN job. And the more people with GN jobs the harder the competition for the job is and the harder someone will have to work to get the job. This will benefit all of Nunavut in the long run.

  9. Posted by Ban unions on

    Union workers fighting for better wages are already the highest paid in the north. This is entitlement at its finest.

    • Posted by frank on

      Ban unions, you said that union workers fighting for better wages are already the highest paid in the north, is that a fact, did you do a research or is this just how you see it and your own opinion? i work for the GN, and a union member myself, its not all about wages, its about being respected by the GN and given fair share. not getting any raise in salary for years at a time, it gets tiring. we work hard to support loved ones, pay off bills and for some, help those who cant afford food, so it would be great if you dont complain about union workers, we deserve a wage increase every year, but that does not always happen but we still work regardless as we have to pay off bills and support loved ones.

      • Posted by The facts on

        Most union workers become lazy once they finish their probation period knowing they cant get fired, that is a known fact. why do you think they are getting rid of Unions all over the USA?

        • Posted by Double standard on

          That’s the biggest issue as to why the GN has become a toxic work place. There are unionized employees that don’t have to do any work or show up for work and there are no consequences for their actions. They are safeguarded because they are unionized. Then we have non-unionized mangers, we had no rights and often fall victim to complaints of harassment against us if we even make an attempt to deal with those difficult employees and often don’t get much support from our leadership to address those issues. I decided it was in my best interest to find a unionized position instead and I never looked back.

          • Posted by Absolutely true on

            As a former manager who has found cushy grift in the ease of the unionverse I must agree .

  10. Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

    “Central issue” of the election??? Your union leaders are leading you on.

    There are issues to Nunavut far greater than a collective agreement renewal for well-paid government employees.

    How about issues that have far exceeded in time, like housing, food insecurity, health care in the communities, family abuse, drug, and alcohol misuse.

    But then what would well-paid unionized government employees know about such issues? Perhaps being paid to resolve the long outstanding issues of the aforementioned would be more appropriate,


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