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Hay River strike hits two-month mark, picketers to amp up effort

Striking Town of Hay River employees say they plan to intensify picketing efforts as the strike enters its third month.

Back on February 9, 31 employees walked out of work over a wage dispute and have mostly picketed outside the Don Stewart Recreation Centre and the town’s fire hall since that time.

But the union representing the workers says that could soon change as they struggle to reach an agreement with the Town.

“Long range we’re looking at events that are going to be happening in Hay River,” said Todd Parsons, president of the Union of Northern Workers.

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“Strikers are willing to amp it up a little more but they don’t want to lose community support.”

“The group is very united. They’re steadfast in their resolve and its need to see economic increases that are consistent with the cost of living in Hay River.”

Read: Union: Hay River Mayor Trying To Divide Town As Strike Continues

Parsons says the group has talked about picketing the upcoming Lobster Fest and Track and Field Championships among other events.

Representatives with the NWT Association of Communities have also been informed that their annual general meeting may be picketed when Hay River hosts the event next month.

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Workers say they don’t want to lose public support by picketing locations like mayor Andrew Cassidy’s home, but admit they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to get back to work.

“We don’t want to involve the community more than we have to,” said Parsons.

“So we’d really like to ask the residents of Hay River to contact their mayor and council and tell them to provide us with a fair and reasonable offer that will see us return to work.”

“We’re very disappointed that we haven’t heard from the employer or returned to the table with a meaningful offer. The strikers have earned the pay demand before the employer.

“It’s obvious that this council and mayor are very arrogant and not very respectful towards its employees. It’s an ongoing problem that predates the strike but here we are in week nine and nothing has changed.”

The Town, however, maintains it doesn’t have the means to support the demands in front of them.

“Ultimately this comes down to finances,” said mayor Andrew Cassidy. “Council, ever since we started has been very concerned about our budgets.

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“We’ve been focusing a lot on ways to increase the revenues and decrease our expenses without having to go to the taxpayer.

“We’ve challenged administration to sharpen their pencils when it comes to expenditures and the biggest expenditure we have in our operating budget is wages.

“It’s nothing personal, it’s nothing bitter. It’s just about the economics of it.”

Read: NWT MP Bevington Backs Striking Hay River Workers

Cassidy admits it’s not ideal operating short-staffed, but says remaining staff have made things work so far.

“We’re still doing the best we can with the limited resources we have. Again, probably the biggest impact is the recreational side of things.

“It’s not the ideal situation obviously but we’re still managing to keep a lot of the core functions going.

“When it comes to developments and building inspections, that’s something we’ll have to re-evaluate as we enter into our construction season so there’s still a lot of work to do on our end in terms of coming up with contingencies.

In a town of 3,700, Cassidy says Town staff are subject to public opinion every time they step out the door.

He believes opinions are varied at this point but understands that residents will grow increasingly frustrated as the strike drags on.

Meanwhile, Moose FM has learned that a change in venue for the NWT Association of Communities’ AGM could be explored if the strike isn’t resolved by May 7.

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