A done deal: Iqaluit Housing Authority, striking workers ratify 5-year contract

Categories: Canada

Workers had been on strike for 19 weeks; talks kicked into high gear after new board named at housing authority

The 19-week-long strike by unionized workers at the Iqaluit Housing Authority ended Tuesday after both the union and housing authority board ratified a new five-year collective agreement.

“I never woke up so happy in my life, this morning,” said Paul Gordon, one of the striking workers and part of the union’s negotiating team.

“I was smiling all the way.”

The new contract was negotiated between the housing authority and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which includes the Nunavut Employees Union. The previous contract expired in June 2020.

Housing workers had been striking since March 17, and two days after that they were locked out by the employer.

The new deal includes an 11.5 per cent wage increase spread over five years:

  • 2020 — 1.5 per cent;
  • 2021 — 1.75 per cent;
  • 2022 — 2.25 per cent;
  • 2023 — 3.5 per cent;
  • 2024 — 2.5 per cent;

It also includes a signing bonus of $3,500 upon ratification, a one-time market adjustment of two per cent extra for trade positions such as painter, electrician and plumber, and a 1.5 per cent market adjustment for trades helper positions.

The new agreement also includes an increase in the language bonus, rising from $1,000 up to $1,500 for unionized staff who speak multiple languages.

Other benefits workers will receive include two days paid for Inuit cultural activities; up to five days for family abuse/domestic violence leave; professional development leave, as well as increased maternity, parental and adoption entitlements.

Gordon and two other workers who were striking, Nicky Nayuk and Daniel Kolola, all agreed the long strike’s impact on their mental health was challenging.

“The high and lows, there were many,” NEU president Jason Rochon said of life on the picket line.

To help them handle the stress, workers held a weekly solidarity lunch and had access to an Indigenous mental health adviser, he said.

Rochon said there were losses on the picket line, but did not say how many striking workers left. The strike began with 13 workers.

Improving the bonus for being able to speak Inuktitut was important, Kolola said, because elders who only speak Inuktitut need housing workers who can understand them.

“I would say it’s a big thing for Inuit or anybody that has their own language,” he said. “It’s a big thing for reconciliation, even.”

After four months where negotiating was rare, bargaining moved quickly when Lorne Kusugak, the territory’s minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corp., appointed new directors to the board at the housing authority last Friday.

The new board is temporary, though, and was appointed to get the labour dispute resolved.

“We actually talked back and forth,” Gordon said of the new board.

“We saw progress happen immediately.”

The new board chairperson, Eiryn Devereaux, said Tuesday he could not speak to why progress was not made under the previous board, which he was not a part of.

“What I can say is that we were really happy with the bargaining session on Monday,” he said.

That session restarted the talks under the new board, and the day ended with a tentative agreement.

“I think that reflects the willingness of the parties bargaining on Monday to reach a settlement,” Devereaux said.

He said the objective of housing authority’s temporary board is to stabilize operations now that the strike is over. Around the end of October, he expects to be advertising for new board members.

Rochon said the striking employees will return to work on Thursday.

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