Striking workers are having to rely on a “virtual picket line” to make their point as the NWT Association of Communities’ annual meeting begins on the Hay River Reserve.
The Union of Northern Workers has vowed to picket the event – which was initially destined for the town of Hay River, where workers are on strike, before being moved to the reserve in a bid to avoid the dispute.
The union says work involved in hosting the meeting would have been performed by town workers prior to the venue switch, which makes the association a target.
However, workers are unable to protest on the reserve itself and must instead content themselves with a picket line outside it, by the highway.
They are promoting the notion of a ‘virtual’ picket in the minds of meeting attendees.
“We’re going to respect the reserve’s wishes and not actually picket on their land or obstruct anybody going in there,” said union representative Jack Bourassa.
“We don’t want to cause any issues – but it makes it difficult, for sure.
“It should be understood that anywhere you’re going at the meeting, there’s a virtual picket line. You don’t have to see bodies to know and understand that there’s a picket in place.”
Bourassa says several communities have chosen to avoid the meeting because of the prospect of crossing a picket line. Organizers say 26 of 33 communities are attending – more than in some past years.
Robert C McLeod, the territory’s minister of municipal and community affairs, said the strike action had not affected a sister conference organized on the reserve by the government on Wednesday.
Communities are expecting to hear more about proposals to hand out an extra $38 million, between the municipalities, after the territorial government realized its funding formula was wrong.
One question is when that money will arrive.
“As far as the timeline goes, you would hope that by this time next year, they might start seeing some of it,” said McLeod.