Dawson politicians tried to deprive staff of Christmas holidays this year, but were foiled by the city union.
At a December 2 meeting, councillors voted down a proposal to give city staff a paid three-day holiday, even though staff have taken these holidays every year since the ‘90s.
Mayor Peter Jenkins and Rick Reimer were against the holiday proposal; Wayne Potoroka and Stephen Johnson supported it. Because the vote was tied, the motion failed.
But on Tuesday, councillors voted to restore the 22 staffers’ holidays during a specially scheduled meeting.
“After speaking with legal counsel we’ve decided to rescind our December 2 decision,” said deputy mayor Ashley Doiron.
Jenkins was on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Reimer declined comment because it was the holidays, and he was doing “Christmas stuff.”
City staff will now get December 28-30 off rather than December 29-31, which they initially requested.
“Council still has issues with the bylaw, but we will revisit it in the new year,” said Doiron.
The bylaw calls on council to vote each year on whether it will close the municipal office between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.
It also gives employees the option of trading in a vacation day if they are required to work any of these holidays.
“Our main concern with the bylaw is how it’s written,” said Doiron. “It needs clarification and modification.”
Although councillors didn’t say it, one reason they were dragged back into the boardroom with lawyers by their sides was because of the staff’s recent bid to unionize.
“I believe that, yes, that’s why the issue has gone back to legal counsel,” said Steven Geick, second president of the Yukon Employee’s Union in Dawson.
“There’s a violation. There’s a potential there (with holidays not being granted) for unfair labour practices.”
On December 8, Dawson City employees officially joined the Public Service Alliance of Canada and its component, Yukon Employees Union.
As soon as the Canadian Industrial Relations Board receives a notice to bargain, then all employee conditions must be frozen, said Geick.
“The basic rule is that it has to be business as usual – there can’t be any changes from what was there from last year.”
Given that, council would have had to give staff their holidays since they had been granted in the past, said Jean-Francois des Lauriers, regional executive president of the Alliance.
If staff didn’t get their time off, the union could have filed a violation with the Labour Relations Board.
“I hope council does the right thing and rescinds the resolution,” said Geick prior to the meeting.
With the city spending money regardless of whether staffers take a vacation or not, Geick questions how much council really would have saved by forcing staff to work those three days.
“If it’s a slow time of the year then what’s the difference?” he said.
City councillors have been tight-lipped about the issue, and all except Doiron refused to comment in the runup to Tuesday’s in-camera meeting.
It’s the third time Dawson city employees have tried to unionize, first by the city operating engineers and later by the Teamsters around three years ago.
But some people have hinted, including past mayor John Steins, the recent desire to unionize may be a result of Peter Jenkins stepping back into office this fall.
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