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Failing the UNW's Questionnaire

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

I must start this post by saying I am deeply committed to organized labour and truly grateful for all the work the Union of Northern Workers (UNW) has done. Yet as with the questionnaire from the 2015 election, they seem unwilling to have nuanced conversation and lack vision with those seeking political office. Their election survey demands yes or no answers on complex labour issues and informs candidates any “no” answers would earn a failing grade for them. This approach is deeply at odds with the critical need to have real, nuanced discussions about these issues.

These are questions on our fundamental beliefs on labour-government relations and I would think after almost three years at the table and ratifying a massive collective agreement that the UNW would understand that now more than ever is the time to be discussing these issues with the attention and nuance they deserve. We need to be having this conversation openly and honestly to ensure we don’t go through the stress that was the potential strike action again.

I was a member of the UNW during that time and this is not reflective of the conversations I had with my fellow members. These questions are the result of failing to consult the wider membership. I would like the UNW to step back and look how it can be a partner in some of the largest issues facing our territory. The NWT faces one of the highest rates of inequality in Canada, the largest of which is between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers. Our organized labour community could make a huge difference by pushing to organize service workers at places like Northmart and near-monopolies like Northview.

I would like to see the UNW push for bringing workers not already represented in a union into the fold. Let’s push for transformative change that would empower workers like a living wage, or truly universal daycare instead of spending our time demonizing entire contract structures. I’d gladly stand on picket lines, rally, and recruit for us to make those smart policies a reality and build a better future for working people across the territory.

My responses are below. In solidarity, Rylund Johnson.

1. Will you oppose any cuts to the Public Service workforce resulting from austerity measures to fund infrastructure projects?


2. Will you oppose contracting out unionized work and fight to return services currently contracted out?

I don’t believe in putting unionized workers currently in public service out-of-work through contracting. However, I think there’s a healthy balance to be struck. Contracting is a valuable tool for any government as it can bring experience, expertise, and outside perspective that could be instrumental in helping the GNWT achieve the kind of change I believe it needs to deliver better public services. I also believe that we need to be realistic about the fact the territorial government is one of the main customers for private businesses here. I don’t believe it’s desirable for us to forget about the need for private business, and the role the public sector can play in fostering a more diverse economy through contracting.

3. Will you oppose any further use of Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) that benefit out of territory businesses for GNWT projects? (for example: Stanton Territorial Hospital)

While it’s clear that the way the GNWT has used P3 contracts must be revisited, I am not in favour of entirely eliminating a contracting structure as a matter of course. There are risks, as there are with any big project, but it’s not productive to eliminate a structure entirely. And as far as not contracting outside-NWT expertise, I also can’t agree to this. We are a small jurisdiction with the same kinds of needs as a big one. We of course must provide incentives and priority to local businesses, but if the expertise and value-for-money isn’t available locally, it’s not unreasonable that we would need to look beyond our boundaries to best serve our constituents.

4. Will you oppose the misuse of precarious and casual positions of unionized workers?

Yes. I am opposed to all forms of misuse.

5. Will you ensure the Union of Northern Workers is a full participant in the modernization of the Public Service Act?

Yes. While we can’t “ensure” anything as individual candidates, there is no possible way we could have a productive and meaningful discussion about the Public Service Act without the UNW at the table. With that in mind, I commit to pushing this need in the legislature if elected October 1.

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