GN hid miscalculation that led to legal battle with union for months: court documents

‘It doesn’t take 4 months to pick up the phone,’ says Nunauvt Employee Union president Jason Rochon

Jason Rochon was elected as the new president of the Nunavut Employees Union on Oct. 7. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Mélanie Ritchot

The Government of Nunavut knew it had miscalculated part of an offer made to the Nunavut Employee Union for four months before it disclosed the error, which ended up halting negotiations towards a new collective agreement.

The GN’s collective agreement with NEU, which determines wages and benefits for more than 4,000 GN employees wages, expired at the end of September 2018.

Details of the GN’s miscalculation are laid out in court documents related to a bad faith bargaining claim the NEU filed against the GN in November 2019.

Now, the union’s newly elected president is saying if the GN had shared this information right away, it’s possible that this claim could have been avoided altogether.

“That’s definitely a possibility,” Rochon said. “You can’t fix problems that you’re not admitting to.”

The dispute centres around $17 million dollars the Department of Human Resources withdrew from an original offer of $33 million for the Nunavut Northern Allowance, based on a miscalculation.

The NNA is paid to employees to offset high costs of living in the North.

Court records show the department knew it made the error in June 2019 and didn’t say anything, even as a mediation, scheduled to start Oct. 28 of that year, approached.

“How is the bargaining team going to tell NEU about [the] miscalculation of [the Nunavut Northern Allowance],” states an email sent by Sheila Kolola, deputy minister of human resources, on Sept. 25, 2019, which is included in the court record.

The department disclosed the error the next month, four days before the start of mediation — a step taken when an agreement can’t be reached.

“It doesn’t take four months to pick up the phone,” said Rochon.

“They could have sent an email in four months.”

Grant McMichael, the assistant deputy minister of operations with the department of Human Resources, said the error was found when staff were preparing for the mediation, in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

Since the bad faith bargaining claim was filed, the GN has made another offer to the union, he stated.

“The NEU rejected that offer without meeting with the GN,” McMichael said.

Both parties have said they cannot discuss specifics of offers made or what is being negotiated until a deal is reached.

With the collective agreement having expired over three years ago, the union’s members haven’t seen wage increases or changes in their benefits.

This means workers, including front-line health workers who worked through COVID-19 outbreaks, haven’t had a raise in that time.

“It’s causing a lot of mental health [issues] and stress and anxiety on families and people who are working really hard and making hard decisions like [whether they’ll pay the bills or put food on the table],” said Rochon, the NEU president.

The Nunavut Northern Allowance hasn’t increased in about 12 years, despite increases in the cost of living, which is why it is a sticking point for the union, Rochon explained.

Former NEU president Bill Fennell said getting paid domestic violence leave for employees has also been a sticking point in the negotiations, in an interview at the beginning of the month.

Since the bad faith bargaining claim was filed in November 2019, the union has offered to go to arbitration, meaning a third party would get involved and decide on a middle ground.

Human Resource Minister David Akeeagok explained why the department rejected the idea in the legislative assembly in September, saying it “basically means you’re being told what to do.”

Rochon says arbitration is “absolutely” still on the table if the department’s bargaining team changes its mind.

Now, both groups are telling each other to come back to the bargaining table.

McMichael said the GN is able to meet as soon as the NEU is ready, in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

Rochon said the union is just waiting for the GN to pick up the phone and it’s “just not true” that the holdup is on the union’s end.

With a territorial election ongoing, Rochon said he thinks the expired agreement has become an election issue and something he hopes the next group of MLAs will take to the legislative assembly.

If progress isn’t made, he said GN employees might have to strike.

Rochon was elected the NEU’s new president on Oct. 7, replacing the previous president Bill Fennell. He is on a two-year term with the union.

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(31) Comments:

  1. Posted by dangit on

    “Rochon was elected the NEU’s new president on Oct.7, replacing the previous president Bill Fennell. He is on a two-year term with the union”
    5 bucks says that the new president rides out his term without an agreement happening lol.

    • Posted by Check your facts on

      Actually I don’t see the new President “riding out” his term as you called it. I have seen NEU posting and communicating with its members more in the past two weeks since Rochon has been at the helm than the former President ever did for any of his time in office. He is trying his best to get the GN back to the table and it’s really refreshing and great to see. Keep up the good work Jason!

  2. Posted by $$$ on

    They should have negotiated in 2019, 2022 is just around the corner and the GN will need to dish out raises that will be inline/close to inflation rate

  3. Posted by ONLY 17 MILLION? on

    17 MILLION DOLLARS? I am pretty sure the GN handed way more millions of dollars to airlines and their southern based parent corporations to fly empty planes for the last year!
    Can they really not value GN core staff who keep services running in Nunavut the same as southern corporations who gouge us every day? Are we going to get interest on our forthcoming raises? Did anyone see Canada CPI is at over 4.4% PER YEAR. The disrespect to GN staff is outrageous. No vacations without hotel quarantine while senior management got paid to work in the hubs or hubs bypasses. Now they want to hold up finishing collective bargaining over this paltry sum? The Nunavut Northern Allowance is easily 25% under inflation just with not increasing it for 12 years, and every year it is worse. The Minister of HR should FIRE THE LOT of deputies and senior management who refuse to get this deal done. New union president should CALL FOR A STRIKE MANDATE.
    No water, no wages, no respect, fed up.

  4. Posted by R. Sharpe on

    GN doesn’t care about the employees!

  5. Posted by D.Hope on

    They just keep dividing people. How come the Government doesn’t practice IQ principals? They need a lot of change.

    • Posted by So, How Exactly? on

      Umm, exactly how would you, in this situation, apply IQ principals to financial negotiations?

      IQ principals are nice in theory, in reality they can’t be applied to all situations, specifically adversarial ones such as this.

      • Posted by D’oh on

        These values are exactly what are needed in an adversarial dispute.

        • Inuuqatigiitsiarniq: Respecting others, relationships and caring for people.

        • Tunnganarniq: Fostering good spirits by being open, welcoming and inclusive.

        • Pijitsirniq: Serving and providing for family and/or community.

        • Aajiiqatigiinniq: Decision making through discussion and consensus.

        • Pilimmaksarniq/Pijariuqsarniq: Development of skills through observation, mentoring, practice, and effort.

        • Piliriqatigiinniq/Ikajuqtigiinniq: Working together for a common cause.

        • Qanuqtuurniq: Being innovative and resourceful.

        • Avatittinnik Kamatsiarniq: Respect and care for the land, animals and the environment.

        • Posted by Not Convinced on

          I’m unconvinced.

          The goal in these negotiations is highly adversarial and to get as much as you possibly can from the other guy. Following IQ principles in such a situation is a way to get yourself tromped all over.

          The GN needs to be financially accountable, and if it allows itself to be taken for a ride by following IQ principles during negotiations, then people will be rightly angry.

          IQ principles will only work if all parties are following them.

          • Posted by Rick on

            I disagree. The GN knows that the cost of living has gone up, they know about food insecurity. The NNA hasn’t increased in over 10 years. Just be fair. Being fair is also being responsible. Help boost the local economy, let people afford to buy groceries. MLA candidates are all talking about economic development but we had no increases in the NNA in forever and no cost of living increases in over 3 years. How the GN or MLA doesn’t make connections to how poorly they are performing and that Nunavut is suffering because of them is beyond me. oppressing people shouldn’t be a GN agenda, helping and providing services and compensating could be a thing though!

          • Posted by Lol for a ride on

            Everyday the GN enters into terrible contracts that see people overpaid.

          • Posted by Mediation is by definition not “highly adversarial” on

            Not to get too deep into the details but meditation is most definitely not “highly adversarial”. Meditation requires the sharing of information which would otherwise be held back in the adversarial setting of court.
            The GN had a duty to properly inform such that mediation could be successful. That’s a cornerstone of the process.
            Knowingly giving out incorrect information during mediation is bad faith.
            Within a jurisdiction like Nunavut, with recognised IQ principles, they could apply to mediation either as a reminder for good faith, or the Nunavut legislature can pass a mediation bill that specifically says such principles should not be forgotten in future situations.
            Because this decision to share incorrect information was wrong in the euro Canadian legal tradition, just as it would be bad behaviour in our own tradition.

  6. Posted by Rick on

    I hope we get some new MLAs and a new Premier. Easy for them they get big fat paychecks but forget about us. Water is expensive and I can’t afford groceries and work full time. My kids are ok though because I don’t eat so they always have food. GN needs to understand the prices of food is going up all the time.

  7. Posted by Ben S on

    It’s easy to look down on people when you’re way up high on your own private plane. Pay us and get your act together.

  8. Posted by Peter P on

    GN needs to wake up! Thank you NEU for talking to us almost everyday now.

  9. Posted by H. Mile on

    Doesn’t the minister know arbitration listens and decides what’s fair for both sides. Why does the GN gang only care about power. Care about people.

  10. Posted by Terrence K on

    GN showing true colors. I hope they start treating workers better.

  11. Posted by Tracey on

    GN knows about all the bullying in the workplaces. GN bullies. Can’t say anything because you get bullied more.

  12. Posted by Nunavut on

    So……what, a strike? probably not, this union is so baby! talk smack, but, can not do anything, 4000 employees can get something done, but, you needs the prezident, the last prezident had some harsh words, but nothing done. Looks like the same with this new, shiny, prezident.

  13. Posted by Voter on

    Who was the Minister responsible for this department? We need our MLAs to be better and push the GN to do better, it’s really getting embarrassing and most of all frustrating.

  14. Posted by Anonymous on

    Minister of HR , David Akeeagok – you need to get out !
    You need to be told what to do !if you re not doing anything about this ! The disrespect to GN staff is outrageous. Senior management pocketing all the money anf got paid to work in the hubs or hubs bypasses. Now they want to hold up finishing collective bargaining over 17 M ?? NEU CALL FOR A STRIKE NOW!

  15. Posted by Leverage on

    The NEU shoukd actually leverage a global labour shortage, a global health care worker shortage, real inflation over 10%, no housing for new staff and so on to basically force the GN to pay major major raises. Call a strike since no one pays attention to grumbling like that last joker president did. Get a mandate and I guarantee you’ll get your 2% and marginal northern allowance increase. The federal employees get over double the GN allowance in Iqaluit. This is a situation where this McMichael fellow is working in southern Canada and taking it easy and not being managed by a Deputy Minister who is coasting to retirement. Meanwhile you have a Minister that clearly has no concept of arbitration and how it works and probably no concept how anything jn labour relations works.

  16. Posted by Max David on

    GN isn’t the employer of choice! They need a complete redo! Do the right thing and pay us a fair wage. Shame on them. They don’t care and everyday negotiations continue is another day they refuse to help us.

  17. Posted by Report Card on

    The track record for Department of Human Resources has been on a downward spiral since it’s creation in April 2019. Did I read that the McMichael fellow screwed up on the calculations of a NNA as early as June 2019 that lead to this fiasco and chose not to share that important information with the Union until 4 months after that fact. Maybe he doesn’t have a good grasp of the Collective Bargaining process and has a blatant disregard for Unions. That in combination with the issues with high vacancy rates, staff housing crisis, bulling in the GN that goes unaddressed and unable to provide a solid briefing to the Minister, sounds like a stellar report card to me! One must ask, where is the DM? Is that what coasting to retirement looks like? I’m guessing these shortcomings are playing havoc on the Department’s ability to recruit people to work in the GN and retain those that are there. Maybe it’s time to review this model, something is not working. You owe it that much to Nunavummiut.

  18. Posted by Shanda PIKE on

    How does the GN management make $17 million mistakes, not fix it, not communicate about it, not apologize, nobody gets fired and they continue to lie lie and deny.

  19. Posted by Alec Berg on

    GN we need help. 3 years and still waiting and you seem in no rush. Food cost so much, water is way too expensive. Don’t be heartless for once

  20. Posted by Jacob F on

    GN needs to do the right thing for once and treat us like humans. So disrespectful and no urgency. Heartless as always! Nice to see the union finally making noise and showing they care. Some MLAs have been too silent letting the GN continue this way and we hope they don’t win. We need change my next door buddy works for GN too and we both need food before paycheck day. Everything is costing more and more and our pay is staying the same

  21. Posted by OMG on

    That’s sure is a lot of miscalculation!! DM for HR knew about this and didn’t nothing to implement further actions to be looked at or taken. I believe the Minister for HR was either Kusugak or Akeearok.

    Than you have a Premier who is constantly washing his hands over any little thing and dictates what Ministers should do.

    With high cost or living in Iqaluit, where GN isn’t able to really provide SH for their staff you would think this would have been dealt with. Minister of Health had to travel back to Rankin as he had no more staff housing due to being sold before his term. And they couldn’t provide a transient ?

    I hope this time around they elect a Premier who actually knows what he is doing and ensures the Minister of HR is on top of this

  22. Posted by Rolling eyes on

    When is it going to improve? The GN needs a major review done and some heads need to roll, with over 2 BILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR our GN cannot do things right and waste so much of those funds in all departments. This is why we can’t have nice things here.
    I am hoping we get new leadership and for those that got acclaimed they don’t get cabinet positions.
    Auditor general has made many recommendations each year, a major operations and departmental reviews would show more where things are wrong and work to address these and make the changes needed. With new leadership to implement these recommendations. Enough is enough, we can’t continue down this road!

  23. Posted by Gee, what was the union thinking? on

    Why didn’t the union accept the $33 million NNA offer instead of taking the GN to court? We all want a deal, but taking the GN to court does not provide a happy feeling in anyone’s stomach.

    • Posted by Overdue on

      Ministers need to make shuffling their first priority when and if they get in as it’s one thing after another with their Management.

      Some of gotten too comfortable in their seat to let things go and ignore things.

      The Deputy Ministers in each department need to step up and do their duty to the public. As a public servant you are seen as a Leader and a Role Model!!! Remember you can be move to another department or remove anytime!!!


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