Watson Lake staff return to work: Whitehorse Star

Stephanie Waddell

Whitehorse Daily Star

The more than 20 unionized staff members with the Town of Watson Lake are off the picket line and back on the job this morning after the town and union reached a tentative agreement Monday.

The two sides still have to vote to ratify the agreement, which was expected to happen later today.

Representatives on each side, however, said they’re glad to have reached an agreement and have the workers back on the job.

The union is represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC)/Yukon Employees Union (YEU).

“In a town the size of Watson Lake, moving forward is critical,” said Jack Bourassa, PSAC’s regional executive vice-president.

“I’m glad common ground was found quickly so our members and the community can put this behind them.”

Similarly, Rick Rotondi, Watson Lake’s acting CAO, said the town is looking forward to moving forward with a good working relationship with its staff as it had many years prior.

“We look forward to working together,” he said.

Neither side would release details of the agreement because it has not been ratified.

The strike began March 27 after management locked out the workers that morning.

While the town had said the employees could return that afternoon, they remained off the job, moving into a strike position.

“With the collective agreement no longer in place, it is no longer safe for our members to return to work,” Bourassa said at the time.

Last week, the town issued a notice around the lockout it was planning for Monday.

The town and union had been negotiating for 10 months prior to the strike.

The last deal ended in December 2015 after it had already been extended by a year. Talks to negotiate a new contract began in May 2016.

Over the course of the week-long strike, there was clear support from the community for the workers on the picket line, said YEU present Steve Geick, who spent time picketing with the workers.

“It was amazing to see the amount of horn honking and support,” he said.

A Thursday evening barbecue drew a supportive crowd of about 50, he added.

“The members did a terrific job of sticking together, supporting each other and holding a strong line,” Geick said.

“They stood up for themselves and achieved a deal they can be proud of. This is a cohesive, local and a good team.”

Last Friday, the two sides began talking again and working with a mediator to reach the agreement that was announced Monday.