Teachers choose arbitration

An arbitrator will resolve the deadlock in contract negotiations between Yukon's teachers and the territorial government. Wednesday, teachers voted in favour of binding arbitration.

An arbitrator will resolve the deadlock in contract negotiations between Yukon’s teachers and the territorial government.

Wednesday, teachers voted in favour of binding arbitration. Their other choice, that of non-binding conciliation, would have resulted in teachers soon afterwards taking a strike vote.

While the Yukon Teachers’ Association won’t release how narrow the vote was in favour of arbitration, it did disclose that 98 per cent of its membership voted.

President Katherine Mackwood credited the high turnout to the “thorough, comprehensive debate” among members over which route to take.

Asked if she shared the opinion of some members that the government’s offer to date was a bit of an insult, Mackwood only objected to the qualifier.

“A bit?” she repeated with incredulity.

“It certainly doesn’t reflect reality, or their ability to pay,” she said.

Teachers want annual wage increases of 4.5 per cent over two years. The territory is offering them 1.2 per cent annually, up from the government’s initial, pre-mediation offer of just one per cent annually.

Territorial negotiators are pleading poverty. Union representatives don’t buy it, noting that the Yukon’s public books, released in September, show the territory has $135 million in the bank.

But those numbers don’t include Premier Dennis Fentie’s latest spending splurge. Following the passage of supplementary spending bills in November, the territory now expects to post a modest surplus of $220,000.

The fact that the territory’s Crown corporations are privately borrowing more than $167 million to finance new construction projects also suggests the government is running out of money.

And if the territory is facing a cash pinch, it has more to worry about than negotiations with the teachers’ union, which represents about 750 members.

Next month, bargaining starts with the Yukon Employees’ Union, which has a membership more than five times as large, at around 4,000 employees. Its contract expired in December.

Yukon’s teachers insist their wage demands are in line with their counterparts in neighbouring jurisdictions. Teachers in the Northwest Territories received pay raises of 4.5 per cent over three years in their last agreement, struck in May of 2008.

But Yukon’s teachers still enjoy the third-highest salaries in the country, lagging only behind their peers in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

And Yukoners, as a whole, enjoy less isolation, lower costs of living and better quality of life than what’s found in Canada’s other territories.

A newly qualified teacher in the Yukon starts with an annual salary of $57,398. Wages top out at $91,751 for teachers with a master’s degree and a decade of experience.

Teachers’ collective agreement expired in June. It remains in effect until a new deal is reached.

The next step will be for the union and territory to select an arbitrator. If the two parties cannot agree on a candidate, one will be assigned by the Yukon Teachers’ Labour Relations Board.

Arbitration could begin by late March, said Mackwood.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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