Striking Many Rivers employees Larissa Korns, from left, Kim Rogers, and Brandon Murdoch speak at a media conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Many Rivers staff are still on strike after 50 days

Counsellors say management is being unreasonable. Management has not spoken publicly.

Employees of Many Rivers Counselling remain on the picket line after nearly 50 days of strike action because they say management is being unreasonable about negotiations.

“I think the most upsetting thing about this response from the employer that I see here is a complete disregard for how seven weeks of being on strike has impacted our services and the clients who need these services right now,” said Larissa Korns, a counsellor with Many Rivers, at a press conference on Dec. 18.

Korns is one of 18 counsellors and administrative staff, working in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Watson Lake and Haines Junction, who have been striking since Nov. 2. They’ve been without a contract for over 600 days. Negotiations have been ongoing during this time, but Korns and fellow counsellors Kim Rogers and Brandon Murdoch said during the press conference that while staff have made concessions in what they’re asking for, management has not.

One of the main asks, she said, is around working hours. Staff want flexibility in scheduling themselves.

“We’re not asking for much. We’re asking for flexibility for when we start our day and for when we end our day. That’s so that we can be prepared when we see our clients instead of walking in with them at nine o’clock in the morning,” she said.

“That’s so that, at the end of the day we have time for paperwork and we can spend a few extra minutes with a client who needs it. We’re not feeling pushed to get them out the door at five o’clock.”

She said staff will still be working a seven-and-a-half hour workday, with no overtime. This will have no impact on intake. The only impact it will have, she said, is improved services for clients.

Rogers said it’s “unfathomable” to her that nothing has changed in the months of negotiations. She said staffers’ backs are against the wall.

“Any solutions that might present themselves now, to me, are the same solutions that were available a year ago,” said Rogers, who is also shop steward. “I’m not sure any new solutions are going to all of a sudden materialize at this point. We’ve amended our proposals time and time again. There’s nowhere else really for us to go short of rescinding completely the points that are the most important to us.”

One of those points is a 1.5 per cent raise in the first year of a new contract. Murdoch said there’s only about a $5,000 difference, right now, between what employees are asking for and what management is offering.

“With all of our staff members, that equates to about a thousand dollars each, raise. It’s not a lot,” Murdoch said, noting it costs more than that to fly board members, or Many Rivers’ B.C.-based clinical supervisor, back and forth between Vancouver and Whitehorse multiple times a year.

“We have amended our proposals consistently and that we have gone where we can with it and that we are still sitting here waiting for something reasonable to come across,” said Murdoch.

Though negotiations aren’t proceeding as well as staff had hoped, all three counsellors said they do feel the public is getting behind them and helping to push things forward. Beyond the picket line, staff have been doing public outreach, and talking to people face-to-face about the issue.

It’s good to have that support from the community, they say, but what they want to see is support from their employer.

Management have not spoken publicly about the strike. Calls to Brent Ramsay, executive director of the board for Many Rivers, have gone unanswered.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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