New Brunswick

Arbitration awards must consider city finances, councillor says

A Saint John councillor says labour arbitrators must start giving more weight to a municipality’s ability to cover higher wage costs when they're settling contract disputes between cities and unions.

Saint John Coun. Susan Fullerton says she's concerned by salary increases awarded to police and firefighters

A Saint John councillor says labour arbitrators must start giving more weight to a municipality’s ability to cover higher wage costs when they're settling contract disputes between cities and unions.

Coun. Susan Fullerton said she is frustrated with rising city police and fire costs in a year when property tax revenue inched up by less than one per cent.

"We must take a leadership role in the Cities [of New Brunswick] Association and go to the province and get this legislation changed," Fullerton said this week.

Fullerton’s comments come as contracts are set to expire with three Saint John unions in 2015.

Saint John's firefighters will have their contract up for negotiation in 2015. The union's existing contract included a 12-per-cent increase over four years, was given by an arbitrator.

Last week, Patrick Woods, the city manager in Saint John, said salaries for the city’s police and firefighters have jumped by more than 50 per cent in the last 10 years.

Patrick Colford, the president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said arbitrators do consider the financial situation of the municipality.

In fact, Colford said he feels arbitrators often take the employer's side when settling contract disputes.

"If the tables had been turned, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now,” he said.

Colford said police and firefighters do not have any other leverage in contract negotiations because they cannot go on strike.

The debate over salary arbitration awards is not only unfolding in New Brunswick.

Michael Warren, a former deputy solicitor general of Ontario, said arbitrators' decisions are “pushing municipalities into really dangerous fiscal waters."

Warren said first responder salaries are far out of proportion to those of other Ontario public sector groups like nurses.

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