Put it to a vote

By JIM BELL

It’s time for the Union of Northern Workers to accept reality.

The UNW’s bosses have received a contract offer from the GNWT that will increase the wages of territorial government workers by an average of 9.8 per cent.

Employees in hitherto underpaid job classifications would enjoy pay increases as high as 31 per cent. All employees would see their pay cheques go up by at least 2 per cent. That’s the first pay increase offered to territorial workers since 1992.

In the proposed agreement, nurses would see a big jump in their salaries too. Without that, the current shortage of nurses in the territories will be impossible to resolve.

Under the proposed agreement, territorial workers would see their northern allowances go up by amounts ranging from $421 to $4,096 a year. In addition to that, they would receive lump sum agreements of $500 in each of the two years covered by the collective agreement. Over 1998-99, the first year of the deal, territorial governments will spend an extra $20 million on wages.

It’s inconceivable that the UNW could possibly negotiate a better agreement. A strike now, just two and half months before division of the Northwest Territories, would be a monumental folly. The public would not support such a strike, and neither would many UNW members.

Despite what their union bosses might say, the UNW is now a badly divided organization, its solidarity fractured. Some UNW locals are threatening to take their union executive to court to force them to put the GNWT’s offer to a democratic vote among the membership.

It’s obvious, therefore, that if the UNW’s leadership were to force a strike, many members would ignore them.

The UNW’s executive has no choice. Put the proposed collective agreement to a vote, and let the members decide. JB

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