New Brunswick

Mayors seek end to arbitration for firefighters

The province's three largest cities want an end to binding arbitration for firefighters, according to Moncton's city manager.

Moncton is concerned about a binding arbitration award for Saint John firefighters

The mayors of Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John are lobbying the provincial government to stop the ability of firefighters to enter into binding arbitration. (CBC)

Moncton firefighters should not be allowed to enter into binding arbitration when it comes to settling contract disputes, according to the city’s top manager.

Jacques Dubé, the city manager in Moncton, said the mayors of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John are all concerned about the ongoing ability of firefighters to opt for binding arbitration.

"The three mayors of the major cities in New Brunswick met recently to talk about this very issue," he said.

Dubé said the cities are lobbying the provincial government to change the law.

The concern over binding arbitration has surfaced after an arbitrator awarded Saint John firefighters a 12 per cent wage increase over the next four years. That decision has been met with criticism in the cash-strapped city.

Moncton’s city manager said he is not looking forward to an arbitration hearing next spring between the city and its firefighters.

"When you look at firefighters, I believe, that Moncton historically has not fared well in terms of [arbitration] results," Dubé said.

Dubé said the last contract gave firefighters a 13 per cent raise over three years.

Moncton’s city manager said Saint John's recent arbitration decision sets a bad precedent for other cities and he feels arbitrators are giving firefighters contracts that cities can no longer afford.

A Saint John city councillor has said the city's fire chief should not expect a budget increase, despite the pay raise awarded to firefighters.

The city's other city employees, including the police department, agreed to a two-year wage freeze to help deal with the city's pension deficit, which is now estimated to be $195 million.

Firefighters should be given right to strike

Instead of binding arbitration, firefighters should be forced to bargain like nurses, according to Dubé.

"In the hospital business, nurses have the right to strike but they also have a requirement under the act to provide a minimum level of service to maintain essential services," he said.

John Courtney, the president of the Moncton Fire Fighters Association, said he disagrees with Dubé's proposal.

"Strike is not something that we're interested in at all." Courtney said.

"We're dealing with public safety, we're protecting lives and property."

Courtney said fires can get out of hand very quickly if there aren't enough firefighters on the scene.