Strike Vote, Recession & the 9 Day Fortnight.

yg-hours-cut-aug-6-1982-star Yukon’s economy was in free fall in 1982. The hard rock mining industry had collapsed, mines were shuttered and the territory slid into recession. Hundreds were out of work and recovery looked bleak.  It was against that evolving backdrop that the negotiating team of the YTPSA met with  the Yukon Territorial Government in early 1982.

Still battling wage disparity and the high cost of living in the north, YTPSA opened salary negotiations with an 18% pay raise demand. This was met with a resounding NO by the government who offered 13.5% and no more.  The union and employer battled it out at the table but reached impasse when the government’s offer was rejected by the union. Internal conflict within the Union saw the resignation of 2 of 3 YTPSA bargaining team members.

In May of 1982, Government leader Chris Pearson withdrew the salary offer and chided the union for its attempt to “insulate public servants from the economic environment which provides their livelihood”.

Following the decision of a conciliation board, the Union recommended ratification of a contract containing an increase of 10.2%. A territory wide ratification tour followed, and the ballot boxes returned to Whitehorse to be counted. But while the union was getting the contract ratified, the politicians refused to accept the conciliator’s recommendations. No deal.

YTPSA didn’t bother opening the ballot boxes. Instead, they grabbed new ballot boxes  and hit the road again. This time though, they were looking for a strike mandate; they got it – over 80% of the membership voted in favour of a strike.
yg-hours-cut-aug-6-1982-star-part-2
When they returned to Whitehorse, strike vote in hand, both sides met again at the bargaining table. This time they agreed on a 10% raise  and the deal was signed.

Meanwhile, the economic realities of a territory without a hard rock mining industry could not be ignored.  Soon after the contract was signed, the landscape shifted again.

Government leader Chris Pearson rose in the legislature to say “Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, the current economic recession is having an impact on Yukon and its people far beyond anything that could have been foreseen six months ago.

The closure of the United Keno Hill mine at Elsa in combination with the closures already announced at Whitehorse Copper and Cyprus Anvil constitute a disaster to the Yukon economy as well as to the mining personnel themselves and their immediate communities. It will be no surprise, therefore, that the Government of Yukon has found it necessary to undertake a program of retrenchment in order to bring our spending plans in line with the financial resources available”.

On August 6, 1982 Pearson announced that the Yukon’s Public Service Union had agreed to the government’s proposal, cutting civil servant’s working hours by 10% as a cost-cutting measure. This cut would be in effect until March 31,‘83 and could save the government $2 million.

Pearson’s “9 day fortnight” program was clever; the pay increase was cancelled out by the reduction in hours worked. YG’s Main Administration building and other administrative offices shut down every second Friday. Thus, most employees’ pay cheques remained unchanged while they enjoyed a long weekend every other week. The union faced little choice; cut backs or lay offs, the government needed to cut costs.

Our thanks to the Yukon Archives for Whitehorse Star records and to past President Dave Hobbis for his recollections of this interesting period in YEU’s history.

Yukon Employees’ Union: Yukon, Born & Raised

In November of 1965, Yu1966-1kon’s civil servants were among the few remaining Canadian government employees lacking any form of unionized association. On a Sunday afternoon in late 1965, this union was founded by a dedicated few who sought fair equity and representation for themselves at a time when their government had not even recognized a union for its federal employees. November 21, 1965 saw the formation of the Yukon Territorial Public Service Association. At the Whitehorse Canadian Legion Hall, the Yukon Territorial Public Service Association (YTPSA) was founded.

YTPSA founding members included first President Bob Smith, Directors Jean Besier and Harry Thompson and Ione Christianson. Though initially intended to represent workers in Whitehorse, it was Ms. Christianson who advised that the membership expand to include the rural areas as well. The constitution adopted at the first meeting stated the union’s purpose was “to unite all employees of the Government of the Yukon Territory for the promotion of their several interests and to promote their welfare and the betterment of their economic and cultural interests.” By promoting “a spirit of amity, unity, loyalty and efficiency in the Public Service” and through affiliation as a component of the Civil Service Federation of Canada (CSFC) the group sought the right to negotiate Collective Agreements for their members.

The first order of business for the new union was a pay raise. Working conditions and very low rates of pay at the time contributed to a powerful sense of inequality with both provincial Government employees and Federal workers. President Bob Smith approached Yukon Commissioner G.R. Cameron requesting an immediate 10% raise in pay. The union’s strong argument defending the request was forwarded to Arthur Laing, then Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. In April of 1996, thanks to the determination of the group and the “enlightened thinking” of Commissioner Cameron, the YTPSA and its members achieved their wage increase request.News-Photo-First-Yukon-Agreement-Signing1971

This was accomplished without the legal right to bargain collectively on behalf of the growing YTPSA membership. By early 1967, records show that the YTPSA was pressing the Commissioner to introduce Collective Bargaining Legislation. This was denied. At the time, the signed membership constituted less than the required 50% plus one of the eligible 380 employees. The YTPSA was by now a fully accredited Local of the newly formed Public Service Alliance of Canada (previously the CSFC) and it was this association that helped drive up membership numbers.

In 1971, the YTPSA celebrated their first Collective Agreement. The event was marked by the visits of PSAC President Claude Edwards and the PSAC Executive Vice-President J. K. Wylie.

Rates of pay in the 1973 Collective Agreement show that a Key Punch Operator’s wage range was from $6571 to $7607 per year, while a Lottery and Games of Chance Manager could expect a top salary of 16,524. Vacation leave (an important bargaining win) was offered in the sum of 3 weeks leave for the first 5 years of employment, 4 weeks of vacation from the sixth year and 5 weeks for those employees with 15 or more years of service.

There was no dental plan at the time though the employer was seeking a plan provider. Medicare costs were increased in the 1973 CA from a 50/50 premium split to a 60% payment from the employer. Maternity leave was in force; a woman who was pregnant was expected to take maternity leave starting 11 weeks before her due date and ending no later than 16 weeks after delivery. This was leave without pay, and was subject to employer approval. At any time however, “notwithstanding the above, the Employer may direct a female employee who is pregnant to proceed on maternity leave at any time where, in its opinion, the interest of the Employer so requires”. Male employees were offered a day of paid specialteamster-raid-cropsSHORT leave at the discretion of the Employer on the occasion of the birth of his son or daughter. We’ve come a long way!

The YTPSA faced many challenges during its first decades. A determined first raid effort by the Teamsters saw the resignation of the entire Executive in 1975, and was followed by another attempt several years later. There were struggles with the PSAC and internal conflicts amongst elected officials of the YTPSA. All the growing pains however happened alongside the continued strengthening of the Union. As the years passed, new Bargaining Units were certified and the membership grew to exceed 5000 members and more than 20 different employers.

We’ll be telling more of the history of YEU over the coming months; we hope you’ll check back. If you were part of the story please contact us toUnion-Boss-Survives-1985 share what you remember. There are many gaps in our records of those early years.

YEU, YGEU, YTPSA has a proud history. We were born in the Yukon, raised in the Yukon. Our story is not one of a group of workers “organized” by any big outside force. We did this for ourselves, by ourselves. YEU developed largely independent of the guidance and structures that were available to other unions.   Our leaders were hardworking and flawed without a doubt, but they pressed on through mistakes as they learned how to achieve their collective goals. We are grateful for their solidarity.

YEU Celebrates 50 years; 1965-2015

News-Photo-First-Yukon-Agreement-Signing1971“It is time for an imaginative, courageous, and positive approach to salaries, [and] working conditions.”

Bob Smith, YTPSA President 1965

On a Sunday afternoon in late 1965, a group of Yukon civil servants gathered together in the Whitehorse Legion Hall. Having long felt they were not offered the same treatment as their federal colleagues, the Yukon workers wanted change. They met to adopt the constitution of an association uniting the collective interest of all Yukon Territorial Government employees.

Living standards were dropping as salaries failed to keep pace with the rising costs of living in the North. Salaries fell victim to inflation with a difference of over 40% in food costs between Whitehorse and Edmonton. The results, especially in communities outside of Whitehorse, were evident. Public Service morale in Yukon was down and staff turnover was constant. Looking to improve the lives of all YTG employees and their families, the Yukon Territorial Public Service Association was founded.

In the early months of the YTPSA,  documents note the Union’s immediate goal was to achieve a pay increase of 10%. Although lacking collective bargaining rights, they sought through their negotiations to provide a higher standard of living for their members. In a letter addressed to then Commissioner G.R. Cameron, YTPSA President Bob Smith wrote that it was time “for an imaginative, courageous, and positive approach to salaries, [and] working conditions.” By April, 1966, they were successful in achieving their wage recommendation.

This is the first in a series of articles sharing the history of the Yukon Employees’ Union, now celebrating 50 years. Follow http://www.theunionbillboard.com to receive regular updates.

YTPSA Newsletter September 1976

Have a read of this 1976 Yukon Territorial Public Service Association newsletter from our archives. Training, Convention, dues and bargaining input… sounds a lot like today’s YEU. The YTPSA was the precursor to the Yukon Employees’ Union as you know it today. We’ll share more of our history over the next year; 2015 marks 50 years as an organized workforce in the Territory!

YTPSA Newsletter September 1976-1