Striking Town of Hay River employees are prepared to vote on the employer’s offer once a return to work agreement is put in place.
A return to work agreement is a protocol that states the conditions for employees to return to work following a labour dispute. The agreement is not a new condition imposed by the union, but is instead a common practice in all contract negotiations that protects the interests of both the workers and the employer.
Town of Hay River workers and Town Council need to be aware of return to work protocols before they can reasonably vote on the contract offer on the table.
“The Town has said publicly that they will be eliminating positions of some members now on strike,” says Jack Bourassa, Regional Executive Vice President North for the Public Service Alliance of Canada. “We’re not going to vote on new contract conditions unless we know all our striking members are going back to work. Having a back to work agreement is standard practice in the settlement of any strike.”
Union representatives have made clear the need for an agreement throughout the negotiations. The Town of Hay River bargaining team has said it needs a back to work agreement in place for the Council to make a decision on any proposal.
“How can a member vote on a contract offer when they don’t even know if they have a job to go back to?” Union of Northern Workers Vice President Gayla Thunstrom says, “How can all striking members vote on an offer when they don’t know if their co-workers are losing their jobs?”
“We’ve promised to take the Town’s offer to the membership, and we will. But not before we can give our members all the facts,” Thunstrom says. “Our bargaining team has supplied a draft back to work agreement for the Town’s consideration. It’s up to them to respond.”
A return to work protocol was put in place for Fort Smith Housing Authority workers before a vote was held to end the their strike in February, under the guidance of the same employer negotiator as Hay River.
“The Town’s position throws up obstacles around a step that is a standard protocol in voting on any settlement where a strike is involved.” Bourassa says, “The sooner we get the back to work agreement done, the sooner we can go to a vote.”
The Town has stated that they are withdrawing their current offer, and the union remains committed to returning to the table immediately.