(Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse city workers file for mediation

Strike ‘the last bargaining chip that the members have,’ union president says

City workers and transit staff have filed for mediation with the City of Whitehorse, said Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees Union, on Feb. 27.

In October 2017, locals Y023 and Y022 filed for conciliation with the city after bargaining in an effort to resolve issues around wages and working conditions.

Geick said these issues include the removal of severance pay for those who resign or retire and restricting the long service bonus, which is the equivalent of two per cent of an annual salary.

‘It’s not a great way to encourage new people to come to (work for) the city,” said Geick of axing the bonus.

“It creates a lot of animosity.”

At a YEU meeting the week of Feb. 19, roughly 150 of the 330 employees in locals Y023 and Y022 were in attendance. They voted to move from conciliation into mediation.

The locals are now at the beginning of a 21-day cool-down period, during which time Geick said they will continue to try to negotiate with the city. That period will come to an end on March 17. At that point, the union has 72 hours wherein employees could be locked out or go on strike.

“Everybody, when they hear the word strike, everybody freaks out,” said Geick. “It’s not really good for anybody but at the end of the day it’s the last bargaining chip that the members have.”

He said he couldn’t speculate what form a strike might take — whether it be a rotating strike, or one that includes picket lines.

In a statement, the city said it respects the bargaining process.

“It is unfortunate the unions walked away from conciliation talks last week.… When the union walked away from talks, there was a significant gap between the economic ask of the unions and what the employer could offer.”

The statement said the city is trying to work with unions to designate essential services for Whitehorse residents. It is currently independently reviewing its strike plan, which identifies those services.

Geick said if there is a strike mandate from membership, it doesn’t mean negotiations will stop.

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

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