New Brunswick

Fredericton firefighters' contract may force budget cuts

Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside says the council may need to make budget cuts to afford a pay increase given to city firefighters.

Arbitration awarded Fredericton firefighters pay increases retroactively to 2011

Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside says the council may need to make budget cuts to afford a pay increase given to city firefighters.

The city and its firefighters entered into an arbitration hearing after the two sides could not reach a negotiated settlement.

The arbitration ruling was reached in December, which will see firefighters receive salary raises dating back to 2011.

The most senior firefighters will be paid $78,000 a year, which is roughly $10,000 more than what they earned before.

Woodside said city council may have to decide if other expenses need to be cut to afford the pay increase.

“If things start to get tight, the only control that we have over the fire department outside of binding arbitration is a number of people, a number of facilities,” the Fredericton mayor said.

Woodside said aside from the salary increase, the arbitration hearings cost the city at least $255,000.

He said the arbitration process needs to change.

“The only way to change, if we're not happy, is to change the process," Woodside said.

"We have enunciated that many times to the premier and will be done again because it's having an impact overall on budgets."

Glenn Sullivan, the president of the Fredericton Firefighters Association, said he disagrees with the mayor's assessment of the arbitration process.

He said the arbitration process is fair and said municipalities aren't always willing to negotiate a reasonable wage.

The two sides will not be leaving the bargaining table for very long. The renegotiated contract with firefighters ends this summer.

Fredericton isn’t the only New Brunswick city clamouring for changes to the arbitration system.

Saint John Coun. Susan Fullerton said in December that labour arbitrators must start giving more weight to a municipality’s ability to cover higher wage costs when they are settling contract disputes between cities and unions.

In December, 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 decade.

In September, firefighters in Moncton were awarded a 16 per cent pay increase through arbitration, prompting Moncton city manager Jacques Dubé to call for changes.

"The continued high wage settlements reached through interest arbitration are getting out of hand." said Dubé at the time. "This process is undermining the bargaining process and it is time that new legislated guidelines be adopted so that firefighters and taxpayers are being treated fairly."

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