Labour Views: All Workers Deserve Fair Wages

By Lorraine Rousseau

As I’m writing this column, negotiations are taking place with the City of Yellowknife. Just like you, I’m hopeful that the Worker(s) and the Employer will reach a fair deal. By the time this article is published, we hope we will all celebrate the gains that city workers have achieved. In the event a fair deal hasn’t been reached, we will be there on picket lines as long as it takes. One day longer one day stronger.

Last week, media asked if we’re expecting similar demands from workers across the North as costs are increasing. Would fair wages that reflect the high inflation rate be a demand at other bargaining tables across the North? My answer was yes and remains yes. A fair wage is put right back into the economy of the citizens in every community across the North.

We know that the inflation rate in Yellowknife is documented at 7 % for December, 2022. The national inflation rate was recorded to be 6.8 % in December. Workers and the union are not asking for an increase in wages that matches the inflation rate, although that would be a great idea! We are asking for an increase that doesn’t ignore the inflation rate and the increasing prices of essential items such as groceries, gas and bills. City workers, just like all citizens in Yellowknife, are trying hard to make ends meet. They have bills to pay. Groceries to buy. And many have families to look after. Amid all of that, the prices keep going higher.  

A fair increase in the wages will help all workers. As a collective, we have seen similar trends in other territories. Bargaining units in Iqaluit and other communities in Nunavut have similar demands. Members in Nunavut tell us that they often need to make the decision whether or not to buy essential items, pay a bill and get groceries. As those workers are the only source of income in their families, they must be able to thrive and not only survive.

While circumstances are different and the impacts and rates of inflation and increasing prices vary from one territory to another, we’re witnessing similar trends in Yukon as well. For instance, Government of Yukon workers’ bargaining team has fair wages as a priority. Across the North, employers are facing recruitment and retention crisis in all public sectors. If employers want to recruit and retain workers, then they must pay them fair wages.

Employers: the solution is attainable.

Any gain at the bargaining table will have its positive impact on workers’ rights whether they’re unionized or not. When workers are paid fair wages, they’re able to spend the money within their city. This is good for the local economy. When workers are valued, they will remain working. There will be less vacancies. But if workers can only afford to survive, they don’t have the means to spend beyond buying essential items and groceries. Many will leave, as we’re witnessing in Yellowknife and across the North. Those who decide to stay will face the extremes of barely surviving. We’re all affected.

Again, we very much hope that both parties will reach a fair deal for city workers. On behalf of the union, we want to thank everyone who shared messages of solidarity, honked to support picketing workers, stopped by to have a chat, share words of support and brought coffee plus snacks.

It has been cold for city workers picketing outside in freezing weather, but the support is heartwarming. It’s during these trying times that we come to realize we’re all affected and we have each other’s backs. Thank you to all Yellowknifers and supporters from across the North and Canada.

One day longer one day stronger. We are stronger together.

This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on February 15, 2023