Bargaining teams with the City of Whitehorse and the Yukon Employees Union could have long days and nights ahead of them this week after YEU members voted to strike.
Steve Geick, president of the YEU, said that during nine separate votes held the week of March 5, the “overwhelming majority” of members in Local Y022 (transit workers) and Local Y023 (city workers) voted to strike.
“I guess the major move was the city came back with a wage proposal in the last hour kind of thing of conciliation,” said Geick. “It is a better wage proposal than what they first offered but it’s still nowhere near where we need to be.”
According to Linda Rapp, city manager for the City of Whitehorse, this is roughly 350 city employees. She said that’s the majority of city staff, aside from management and a few other positions.
Other issues for the locals include the removal of severance pay for new employees who quit city jobs to go elsewhere. Restrictions on the long service bonus would also be in place for new employees. Rapp said neither issue would affect existing employees.
She said severance and long service issues were priorities for the city. She said the union has not presented counterproposals to the city on either point.
The most significant change, Rapp said, is that the union has changed its stance on the length of the collective agreement, coming up from two years to three years. The city has suggested four years.
Geick said both sides will be back at the bargaining table March 14 to 16.
If a collective agreement is not reached, transit workers could go to strike as early as one minute after midnight on March 17.
Other city employees (including water and waste, operations, finance, bylaw and parks and recreation) will not be striking at that time because while the union and the city agree some of these employees provide essential services, neither side has been able to agree on what constitutes those essential services.
“At this point, we weren’t in complete agreement on that list,” said Rapp. “And so this morning we got notice that the union had sent that list to the labour board to have them rule on it … I believe it is within three weeks they respond on a ruling. So basically there will be some back and forth.”
What a strike might look like is still unclear, said Geick. It won’t necessarily mean all striking employees join a picket line. It could mean rotating strikes.
“The last thing that we want to do is to disrupt services,” he said. “But we have to have an effective strike if it’s to mean anything so there’s a fine balancing act.”
“Nobody wants to see a strike.”
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This story has been updated to include comments from city manager Linda Rapp.