An arbitration panel in Thunder Bay, Canada, has awarded pay increases to firefighters — pushing their salaries ahead of Thunder Bay Police officer wages.
The retroactive award, which breaks a longstanding pattern, covers three years between 2015 and 2017.
TBNewsWatch says Michael Riddell, the city’s nominee to the panel, reports firefighters’ pay now surpasses local police by $127 for 2015, $376 for 2016 and $634 in the current year.
Riddell says in his dissenting remarks about the increase, there had been wage parity between city firefighters and police between 2003 and 2014.
“The chair appears to justify ignoring this compelling historical pattern by considering the salaries of firefighters in cities such as Sarnia and Barrie that are more than 1200 kilometers from Thunder Bay,” Riddell said.
Going into arbitration, TBNewsWatch reports the city asked for annual increases of 1.75 percent over the three years, which it said would is consistent with agreements negotiated with most of the city’s other bargaining units. Failing that, the city bid the panel to replicate the wages of Thunder Bay Police. The current collective agreement with police includes pay hikes of 2.25 percent for 2015, 2 percent for 2016 and 2 percent for 2017.
According to TBNewsWatch, the city argued the current economic conditions in Thunder Bay should be “an overriding consideration” in the arbitration, and the award “should be driven by the city’s internal comparators” and settlements with its other employee groups.
However, TBNewsWatch reports, in its decision, the arbitration panel noted the Firefighters Association took “strong exception” to maintaining parity with local police, saying the police settlement was “abnormally low as there were other substantial non-wage improvements” in the police contract.
Firefighters argued it was more appropriate to compare their wages with firefighters in 11 other Ontario cities — a move they say closes rather than widens the pay gap with their counterparts.
In its ruling, TBNewsWatch reports, the panel said it found “serious problems” with both parties’ positions in regard to wages.
The panel said if it honored firefighters’ requests, there would be “a dramatic realignment” of wages, which would result in significantly larger premiums above local police wages.
TBNewsWatch reports the panel also noted in a counter argument that if it gave the city what it wanted, Thunder Bay firefighters would fall below their contemporaries in all 11 cities to an extent not seen since at least 2003.
In the end, TBNewsWatch reports the panel concluded that while “the local police comparator should be given significant weight having regard to the long history of fire and police wage parity” in Thunder Bay, it also accepted that “it is proper to take into account firefighter wages elsewhere.”
Thunder Bay’s 206 full-time firefighters comprise about 13 percent of the city’s municipal work force, according to TBNewsWatch.
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