Nelson firefighter collective agreement goes to arbitration

Nelson's firefighters have been without a contract since 2011.

Nelson's unionized firefighters have been without a contract since December

The City of Nelson and its firefighters are resorting to binding arbitration after four years without a labour contract.

“We are at an impasse after a year and a half of bargaining,” said Marc Thibault, the president of the Nelson local of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

“Late last year both sides agreed to bring in a mediator from the Labour Relations Board, but he was unable to make progress. Between then and now we had a few more meetings with the city, but no agreement could be reached. As a result, we are now in the process of selecting an arbitrator.”

Firefighters provide an essential service and are therefore prohibited by legislation from striking. So if they cannot come to an agreement with their employer, an arbitrator must be called in to make a binding decision.

Nelson firefighters’ previous contract, which expired in 2011, was also decided by arbitration. The result was a 24.5 per cent increase over five years.

Lorne West, the western Canada Vice President of the IAFF, told the Star that the wage increases in that contract resulted from the arbitrator attempting to bring Nelson firefighters closer to the wage and benefit levels of other fire departments in the interior of BC. He denied that they were trying to catch up to Vancouver, an allegation the city has made in the past when it has argued that small cities don’t have resources comparable to Vancouver and therefore should not be held to the same wage standards.

Firefighters have rebutted that argument by saying a fire is a fire, regardless of its location. West said a first class firefighter in Vancouver earns $40.87 hourly under a contract that expired in December 2015.

Of the 52 firefighter union locals in BC, 30 have now signed agreements extending to 2019, and the prevailing wage rate in those agreements for a first class firefighter is $41.93 per hour, according to West.

He said the prevailing wage increase in those agreements is 2.5 per cent per year. That is the case in an agreement recently signed with firefighters in Kelowna, for example.

The rate paid to a first class firefighter in Nelson under its expired contract is $34.96, West said.

He said he does not know the size of the increase Nelson firefighters are asking for, but he says they are currently among the lowest paid firefighters in Canada, and that their pensions are below par as well. He said that the 10-member firefighters’ local in Nelson and the eight-member Fernie local are at the bottom of the pay and pension ladder in B.C.

West said an arbitration can cost up to $80,000 for each side and that the Nelson firefighter local has to cover that cost itself, without help from its international union.

Neither city manager Kevin Cormack, who heads labour negotiations for the city, nor Mayor Deb Kozak, were willing to comment on the current state of negotiations other than to confirm that an arbitrator is being sought. Cormack added that “until an arbitration actually happens there is always the opportunity to still reach an agreement.”

According to the city’s 2015 annual report, fire protection services used four per cent of the city’s $39-million operations budget that year.

 

Status of other City of Nelson collective agreements

Canadian Union of Public Employees

Number of city employees: 74 (66 full time, 8 part time and occasional casual employees) plus 15 library employees, some of them part-time)

Contract expired: December 31, 2015

Last contract pay increase: 6 per cent over three years

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

Number of city employees: 11

Contract expires: April, 2017.

Current contract pay increase: 10 per cent over five years and four months.

Nelson Police Association

Number of employees: 16 police officers (plus one to be added), four dispatch (plus one to be added).

Contract expired: 2012

Pay increase in last contract: 21 per cent over five years for police officers, 10 per cent over five years for dispatch employees

Just Posted

NDP bring Green New Deal to the Kootenays

MPs Wayne Stetski and Peter Julian held climate change talks in Nelson, Cranbrook and Revelstoke

Elk River reclaims property as its own

Laws make it harder to protect private land than ever before says farmer, local government

Smoke-free summer a boon for West Kootenay tourism

Tourism centres seeing numbers up

LETTER: Nelson far from bike-friendly

From reader Nancy Rosenblum

LETTER: Make pot illegal again

From reader Rod Retzlaff

New police force in Surrey must avoid VPD, RCMP errors made in Pickton case: Oppal

Boots are scheduled to be on the ground by spring 2021

Conan turns to the Property Brothers for tips on buying Greenland

Jonathan Scott suggests removing glaciers and mountains to bring in ‘more natural light’

Forests minister visits B.C. town hit by multiple mill shutdowns

A third of Mackenzie turns out for rally, not much to cheer about

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

B.C. music teacher accused of sexual misconduct involving girls

Police believe other victims could be out there after the arrest of Lamar Victor Alviar

B.C. family stranded in Croatia desperate to come home

Funds being raised to bring back mom and two children

B.C. man on trial for daughters’ murders says an intruder broke in

Andrew Berry takes stand in his defense for December 2017 deaths of young daughters

‘Plenty of time for a deal’: Teachers’ union expects kids back in school on Sept. 3

BCTF says class size, composition at the heart of the issue

Most Read