Can Whitehorse Workers Afford to Live Where They Work?

February 28, 2023

Statement issued by YFL President, Teresa Acheson, to Whitehorse City Council at Public Input on February 27, 2023.

Thank you, Deputy Mayor Curteanu and Council, for this opportunity to speak on the traditional territory of Kwanlin Dun and Ta’an Kwachan First Nations. 

My name is Teresa Acheson, President of the Yukon Federation of Labour, located in the downtown core of Whitehorse, Yukon.  I am speaking to the 2023-2025 Operating Budget Package. 

The Yukon Federation of Labour represents all Yukon workers regardless of union affiliation; the unionized, private sector employees, unorganized and excluded employees.  We are affiliated with the Canada Labour Congress.  Local Y046, Whitehorse Municipal Employees, is an affiliate of the Yukon Federation of Labour, through their Component (Yukon Employees Union) and their national union (Public Service Alliance of Canada). 

I wanted to draw your attention to the impact on public service workers that stem from community changes and operational budgets.  Mayor Cabott stated in the 2023 Operating Budget Address “Whitehorse continues to grow at a rapid rate”, which is backed by Canada Census data, where Yukon has experienced the highest growth as it reached the very top nationally in terms of population growth, with the number of Canadians that call Yukon home rising by 12.1% from 2016 to 2021. 

This exponential growth in population, is not yet reflected in the growth of public service workers.  Often city workers who are front line or first responders, are expected to do more with less, serve more citizens (more families, more streets, more roads, more sewer systems), with the same number of hours, and with aging infrastructure. Due to high turnover, or slow recruitment, workers often face these challenges, with a revolving door of supervision and support, long term “acting assignments”, or vacancies that leave a downward effect of workload to the workers. 

Mayor Cabott also noted in the Operating Budget address, “Our City infrastructure is aging which puts additional pressure on staff who regularly maintain, repair and even replace key pieces…”.  To which the response seems to be “we’ll be adding two more staff who will be responsible for the city’s water and waste infrastructure.”

It is so much more than these 2 additional staff that is needed in public service jobs to adequately serve our citizens.  I would ask council if you feel this budget adequately funds the jobs and hours of work needed to avoid future disasters, protecting our waterways, and avoiding another sewer leak.  But also is there enough public service workers to support all other areas of growth felt by this city.  This is not only more staff in water and waste, but building and trades, administration, transportation, recreation, bylaw and fire.  And does the budget support not only more workers, more hours of work, but also maintaining and attracting certifications necessary to maintain public services to acceptable standards. 

One of our more obvious pinch points is housing, and the crisis currently felt by most to be able to stay in Whitehorse or find a place to live in Whitehorse.  I’ve heard stories of successful candidates who accepted job offers, move themselves across country, and then have to decline and leave because they could not find housing. 

If you look at a number of inflationary costs highlighted in this annual budget:

  • CPI rose by 6.3% in December 2022 compared to last year.
  • Gas has increased by almost 12%
  • Replacement parts increase 10-20%
  • Diesel cost increased by 34%
  • Yet, Local Y046, the largest segment of city workers, only received annual wage increases of 2.1 – 2.5% a year. 

When you consider these families that work for the city also live in this city, and their living costs have risen just as much as our city operating costs, I am concerned about the viability for workers to continue to stay and work for the City. 

IAFF Local 2217 is currently in bargaining with the city to renew their Collective Agreement.  And we know that management receives increments that are tied to CPI. 

Something to also note in the Stats Canada post for Heritage Day:  Almost two-thirds (26,600 people) of Yukoners in 2021 traced their roots to the territory back three generations or more.

I remember a phrase that was one time a visionary statement for the city of Whitehorse, that it would be a “great place to live, work, and play”.

Will this budget support the necessary increase of public service workers to deliver our front line and first responder services to the citizens of Whitehorse, and how will this make Whitehorse a sustainable place for workers to “live, work and play”.  Workers need to be able to afford to live in the city they work and for many, where they grew up. 

I would urge this council to ensure that our budget fully considers the demands on city workers by the city’s growth, aging infrastructure, and efforts to try and maintain public services for our northern community.

Teresa Acheson, President                                   

Yukon Federation of Labour

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