City of Yellowknife is asking the court to limit strike action after alleged delays at the dump and water center
The City of Yellowknife is seeking an injunction from the NWT Supreme Court limiting how much striking workers can obstruct employees and non-union workers entering and exiting city facilities.
In a Tuesday court filing, the city alleges that striking workers delayed commercial vehicles entering the landfill site by up to an hour, vehicles entering or exiting the site of the new water center by up to 15 minutes each way, and parked their vehicles Vehicles on site, so only one vehicle can enter or exit at a time.
Workers picketed on February 8 after their local northern workers’ union and the city failed to reach a new collective agreement. The current contract expired a year ago. The sides still appear to be far apart, with wages being the main issue.
The city is offering workers a 2 percent raise retroactive to January 1, 2022 and another 2 percent raise retroactive to January 1, 2023. An internal union memo obtained by CBC last week suggests workers are targeting a 5 percent raise for 2022 and a three percent increase this year.
City: Strike “escalates”
In one of several affidavits filed in support of the injunction, Kerry Thistle, the city’s director of economic development, says: “The picket lockdowns appear to be escalating. Initially, the vehicles were about five minutes late. On February 12, 2023 vehicles were more than 45 minutes late.”
The city is asking the courts to order strikers to stop vehicles entering and exiting city facilities for a maximum of 10 minutes. A limit of six pickets to each city entrance at a time is also requested.
The city also attached an email from a subcontractor working at the water sports center, describing its experience trying to cross the picket lines to get to the site on Monday morning. The worker said he parked his truck across the street because he thought he would have fewer problems if he walked the rest of the way.
“They had someone film the entire encounter, they specifically threatened that crossing the line would somehow affect the company’s future work with the city,” the worker wrote. “Also, it was threatened or implied that I might have ended up on the news in my company truck trying to cross the border.”
The city says the general contractor overseeing construction of the water center has notified the city that it is keeping a record of any delays and will bill the city for the delays.
In another affidavit, Public Works Director Chris Greencorn said he spoke to strike captain Bassel Sleem at the municipal dump Monday about trucks arriving and exiting the dump about 40 minutes late.
“I pointed out that 10 or 15 minutes was a reasonable expectation and asked him to allow vehicles past that time,” Greencorn wrote. “He replied that he could hold the trucks for an hour if he wanted to.”
Greencorn estimated that a 15-minute delay each way for garbage trucks would result in a roughly 25 percent reduction in residential garbage collection.
The city is asking that the motion be heard in court as soon as possible or by Friday.
Union calls labor dispute peaceful, legal
Lorraine Rousseau, regional executive vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, told CBC News that the request for an injunction amounts to an attempted violation of workers’ right to picket.
“On February 8, the employer locked out the members of the bargaining unit,” Rousseau said. “Now they are trying to use the courts to mitigate the practical and financial consequences of their own actions.”
The city locked out union members on February 8, but only after those workers went on strike at midnight.
Rousseau said the city’s “heavy-duty crackdown” was aimed at unfairly intimidating striking union members who are only exercising their right to assemble.
“Our members, they are residents, they are taxpayers of Yellowknife,” she said. “They want to get back to the negotiating table … they want to go back to work.”
Rousseau did not deny the allegations described in the court documents, but said the union’s tactics were necessary and legal.
“We want to be heard. We don’t do anything illegal. We are very peaceful… We are within our right to demonstrate peacefully,” Rousseau said.
Rousseau said the union’s legal team will now consider its response to the injunction but will respect the court’s final ruling.