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Strikers and UNW resume talks
Union president open to hearing strikers' views on classification system

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - After a week of heated accusations and strong words, the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) and its 10 striking administrative workers returned to the negotiating table yesterday afternoon.

NNSL photo/graphic

Ken Howie, a representative of the 10 workers currently on strike from the Union of Northern Workers (UNW), speaks to press outside the UNW office, where workers have been picketing for a week and a half. The parties were supposed to reenter negotiations yesterday afternoon. - Guy Quenneville/NNSL photo

Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers, told Yellowknifer on Monday that "we're going back to the table tomorrow (Tuesday)."

Ken Howie, president of the workers bargaining unit, Local 8646 of the United Steelworkers, received a similar notice from his negotiator on Monday afternoon.

Whereas Howie previously claimed that Parsons would not return to the table if the workers continued to insist on a job classification system, Parsons said on Monday that he is now willing to consider the bargaining unit's thoughts on job classification, which proved the main sticking point during previous negotiations.

"We consider that a positive sign," said Howie.

The workers' collective agreement expired on March 31. On Monday, the strike entered its second week.

"We're still strong," said Howie. "We'd rather be back at work but our spirits are still good. We've received a ton of support.

"The one thing that has come up is we've had confirmation that there are members of the executive for the employer that are doing what we consider to be struck work," meaning work normally carried out by the striking workers.

But Parsons denied the claim.

"They're trying to paint a picture that UNW workers and elected officers are doing bargaining unit work," said Parsons. "That's not the case, but UNW elected officers are continuing ... to attend meetings and submitting grievances, as they always have in the past. There's no administrative work being done."

Late last week, Dave Thompson, an employee at the Vancouver office for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (of which the UNW is a branch), started a Facebook group called "Support Union of Northern Workers Staff."

By early Monday evening, the group had 204 members.

Jean-Francois Des Lauriers, PSAC regional executive vice-president, would not comment on the strike when contacted by Yellowknifer.

"The PSAC is not a party to this dispute," said Des Lauriers via email. "It is between the Union of Northern Workers and their staff represented by the United Steelworkers. Therefore I will not comment on it."

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