The Union of Northern Workers came into existence in 1969 as the union organizing employees of the new Territorial Government.
When the Government of the Northwest Territories was moved to the new capital of Yellowknife in 1967, the workers who moved to set up the new administration were mainly federal government workers. Accepting employment with the new territorial administration meant they had to give up their membership in the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
But union activists weren’t going to see the territorial public service continue as a workplace without a union. After a year of organizing, collecting union dues by going door to door and from government office to government office, the Commissioner for the NWT, Stuart Hodgson, agreed to recognize the NWT Public Service Association as the bargaining agent for 1,000 GNWT employees. The first Collective Agreement was signed on June 8, 1970 by the Union's first President, Keith McInnis and PSAC National President Claude Edwards. NWT Commissioner Hodgson signed on behalf of the GNWT.
The UNW was created as a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. This means that every UNW member is also a member of the national Union - PSAC. The PSAC provides the UNW and its members specialized services. They do organizing drives, lobby governments at the federal level, provide legal advice, and representation in arbitrations.
In 1988, the GNWT passed the Union of Northern Workers Act which officially changed the name of the organization and recognized the UNW as the bargaining agent for its members working for the GNWT.
Over the years, other employee groups were organized and became part of the UNW. They include Hamlet and Housing Association workers, and a variety of other non GNWT employers. Before Nunavut was created, the UNW represented 7,000 workers in both the eastern and western Arctic. The separation of the two territories reduced the UNW's membership to about 4500 members.
Most recently the diamond workers at the Ekati mine joined the UNW in 2006. The UNW now has approximately 5,700 members.
Over fifty years since our beginning, we remain a strong, united and powerful voice for the rights of NWT workers.