Ready to walk
Fort Providence Housing Association workers set to strike

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

NNSL (July 30/99) - The 13 Union of Northern Workers members at the Fort Providence Housing Association have voted unanimously in favour of strike action, unless management comes forward with a better offer before Aug. 4.

The six full-time and seven part-time employees are seeking a three per cent increase in wages and the benefits package to remain intact, says shop steward Clell Crook.

Crook says management was targeting female employees in the new agreement by cutting maternity leave and other benefits.

"They wanted to cut all kind of things, maternity leave, along with a whole swack of other things," Crook said. "It was definitely a move against the female workers of our group."

Negotiations have been unsuccessful so far, Crook added, saying management hasn't budged.

"We initially discussed it with the manager and asked him if we would have went for a one per cent increase, would you give it to us," he said. "He said, ĆOh yeah, we would have given it to you right away.'"

"So I said, ĆOK, well we haven't had a raise in the last five years, so why don't you give us one per cent per year,'" Crook said. "He just laughed at us."

He said the group is poised to walk out on strike.

"We're in a legal position to go out on August fourth," he said.

Management has said replacement workers will be brought in the event of a strike. Crook said replacements would be hard to find.

"I don't know where they'd find replacement workers in Providence," he said. "All the people are behind us on this thing."

The next move is up to the government, Crook says.

"We're waiting on management. If they want to talk, we're ready to go to the table," Crook said. "We plan on having some more discussion among ourselves between now and then."

Fort Providence Housing Association manager Allen Bouvier said the offer they'd made was more than fair to the workers.

"We were prepared to give our maintenance people a two per cent raise and our administration people no increase," Bouvier said. "The maintenance workers have not had an increase in five years, but administration are on pay grid, which means they get automatic increases once they reach the Grade 6 level."

Bouvier said the workers enjoy a "Cadillac contract," and are asking for too much in the new deal.

"They first asked for a five per cent increase across the board," he said. "Then they came back at conciliation and said they'd settle for three per cent and we said forget it.

"We have the best collective agreement in the Northwest Territories here," Bouvier said. "It's got everything in there, housing allowance, utilities, call-outs, gasoline...they want more, so finally we just said, ĆThat's enough.'"

Bouvier said the quality of housing units in Providence is suffering, because too much of their budget is spent on wages and benefits.

"The employees are padding their pockets with these wages and the maintenance of the houses is going by the wayside," he said. "It's time to get back to basics."

If the workers strike, replacements will be brought in, Bouvier said.

"We've already got a temporary workforce lined up," he said. "The contingency plan has already been done. It's just a waiting game now."