Union says City of Yellowknife acting ‘in bad faith’ after city manager’s email to unionized city staff

Union says City of Yellowknife acting ‘in bad faith’ after city manager’s email to unionized city staff

The union, which represents most of Yellowknife’s city workers, says the city is “using malicious intimidation tactics” after the city manager emailed more than 200 workers last week in response to the collapse in collective bargaining.

The city and the Public Service Alliance of Canada met with an arbitrator last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday as part of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, but failed to reach an agreement.

On Friday, Yellowknife Town Manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett sent an email to all members of PSAC Local X0345. CBC received a copy of the email. In it, she said the union was preparing a strike vote and set out the city’s offer in collective bargaining.

While Bassi-Kellett’s email contains some points that the city and union have agreed on, it does no mention of items requested by the union but refused by the city.

“The city decided to bypass collective bargaining laws entirely and go through the entire union process in a desperate attempt to convince members that the union is at fault and that their offer is fair,” said Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice president for the Civil Service Alliance of Canada North, CBC said on Monday.

Yellowknife City Manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett wrote an email to union workers outlining the city’s latest offering. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

Rousseau said the city is using email to “intimidate” workers into agreeing to a subpar deal.

CBC News requested an interview with Bassi-Kellett on Monday but didn’t get one. City spokesman Richard McIntosh said the city did not decline an interview, but “due to the availability of personnel,” the city “did not have the appropriate person to discuss this matter.”

The last collective bargaining agreement between the city and PSAC, the umbrella union of the Union of Northern Workers, expired on December 31, 2021. Collective bargaining began in May 2022.

In a PSAC North update earlier this month, the union said negotiations were deadlocked.

The city broke off the last round of negotiations by declaring an impasse, and the federal labor minister appointed an arbitration officer to arbitrate on November 18.

“We don’t ask for the world”

Rousseau would not go into detail about sticking points or the pay rise the union wants, saying the union will not “negotiate in the media.”

What she said is that the union wants the city to take inflation into account, especially given that prices have skyrocketed over the last year.

“You want to recruit and retain workers, but you’re not willing to move in times of high inflation,” Rousseau said.

“We don’t ask for the world, but we don’t settle for nothing.”

As detailed in Bassi-Kellett’s email, the city’s offer includes, among other things, a 2 percent pay increase retroactive to January 1, 2022 and a 2 percent increase effective January 1, 2023.

Bassi-Kellett says the union turned down the offer.

City officials and disfellowshipped personnel, city law enforcement officials and firefighters are not members of PSAC Local X0345. They all received a 2 percent raise this year.

The offer mentioned in the email also includes formal meal and rest breaks for casual employees working 7.5 or 8 hour shifts; allowances for safety shoes and other equipment for casual workers after 2,080 hours worked; and to include the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation as a paid holiday.

“We continue to be open and transparent with our employees as we go through this process to understand needs and perspectives,” writes Bassi-Kellett.

“Ultimately, the city values ​​its employees and works to treat employees fairly and with respect through meaningful work, a positive corporate culture, competitive salaries and excellent benefits.”

Bassi-Kellett writes that the city’s offer is “fair and reasonable” and is still on the table.

City is taking a risk with its e-mail, says labor lawyer

The Bassi-Kellett email also highlights the consequences if union members vote ‘yes’ to strike.

She writes that a ‘yes’ vote on the strike is won by a majority of members who took part in the vote, not a majority of all union members.

“That means if 10 people show up to vote and six vote yes, there is approval to strike,” she writes.

Their email went on to say that “sometimes union members believe that saying ‘yes’ is simply a way of putting more pressure on the employer and that it doesn’t mean the union is actually going on strike.”

“To be clear, a ‘yes’ vote gives the union the mandate to call a strike without further input from members. So if the union decides they will call a strike if there is a valid ‘yes’ vote, the only option because the members will go on strike.”

Austin Marshall, a labor and employment lawyer in Yellowknife who read Bassi-Kellett’s email, said the city was “on thin ice” and was speaking that way about a possible strike vote.

“There is a warning in that, and if the employer puts himself in a position of any kind of coercion or intimidation or what could be seen as a threat, then that’s what is called an unfair labor practice, so they’re taking that risk,” he said.

“Well, maybe there’s more to the story, but reading the letter, I see that they’re taking that risk.”

From Marshall’s point of view, the email suggests that the city wants workers to know that it is doing everything in its power to reach a fair settlement with the union, but the email also “smacks of it, the workers of it trying to persuade them not to go on strike”.

In an employment relationship context, Marshall said, the employer can say things that are “fair and honest statements of fact,” but he has no right to speak in a way that “places an underlying pressure on workers to do anything specific.” the employer wants.”

Marshall wouldn’t go so far as to say Bassi-Kellett’s email is banned, but he said it worries him a little.

Rousseau said the union’s lawyer was investigating whether the email violated Canadian labor law.

She said the union will now consult members on how they intend to proceed.

There could be a strike vote in January, she said, and if members vote to strike, they would leave in February.

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