03/27/2017 18:30 EDT | Updated 03/28/2018 01:12 EDT

Watson Lake, Yukon, town workers begin strike as lockout ends

Twenty-one unionized municipal employees in Watson Lake began a strike at 1 p.m. Monday, as the town's earlier lockout came to an end.

"With the collective agreement no longer in place, it is no longer safe for our members to return to work," said Jack Bourassa, executive vice-president for the North region of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, in a news release.

That means the town can "arbitrarily impose conditions it was unsuccessful in negotiating at the bargaining table," the release said.

A newsletter issued last week by the town noted "if a work stoppage occurs — either a strike by workers or a lockout by the employer — the collective agreement is, essentially, no longer in effect. This means that the town can adjust the terms of employment for its employees if it feels it must."

The town's acting chief administrative officer, Rick Rotondi, told CBC News on Monday morning that the 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. lockout was needed to free up the town's ability to schedule employees to work at the recreation centre on weekends.

He said the terms of the collective agreement would remain in place for employees who came back to work after the lockout, except for provisions to do with shift scheduling and the employees' right to file grievances. 

Rotondi said, if a strike commenced, unionized workers are obliged to keep water, sewer and fire protective services in operation.

Scott MacLean, president of the local unit of the Yukon Employees Union, said scheduling is just one of the issues separating the town and the unionized employees.

He said the workers have always been willing to work weekends at the recreation centre, as long as the shifts are part of a seven-day schedule and posted 10 days in advance.