New Brunswick

Moncton council postpones vote on changes to binding arbitration rules

Moncton city council has postponed the debate over a resolution seeking changes to binding arbitration in the province's industrial relations act for firefighters and police. 

Councillors want more discussion, information about outcome of changing provincial Industrial Relations Act

Moncton city council has postponed a decision on supporting a resolution seeking changes to the Industrial Relations Act. (CBC)

Moncton city council has postponed the debate over a resolution seeking changes to binding arbitration in the province's industrial relations act for firefighters and police. 

A special council meeting was held Tuesday to discuss a resolution proposed in a letter from the Cities of New Brunswick Association. 

Chair Adam Lordon sent the letter Nov. 5 asking the eight city councils across the province to vote on the same proposal on Nov. 12. 

All eight cities, with the exception of Saint John, had it on Tuesday's agenda. Saint John will discuss the proposed resolution Nov. 18. 

The association had previously said in June that it wanted the Industrial Relations Act amended by the province to force arbitration boards to consider a municipality's ability to pay when dealing with fire and police contracts. 

Municipal police and fire service unions are barred from striking in the province. When negotiations fail, arbitration is used to reach a new collective agreement. 

The province said it would consider making changes to the act if there was enough support from municipalities. 

Union advised of process

Coun. Brian Hicks said he couldn't support the resolution because he didn't think it had been thought through. (Shane Magee/CBC)
While Moncton only has a firefighting service, other cities across the province have both essential services to consider. 

After reviewing a report prepared by city staff and hearing from city manager Marc Landry, some city councillors asked  how the firefighter's union had responded to the proposed change. Landry didn't go into detail but said the union had been advised the process was underway. 

Landry said the resolution would look at specific criteria including the economic health of the province and municipality, and the employer's ability to pay. 

"It's really taking those items into consideration, which is not currently included in that Industrial Relations Act," Landry said.

He said similar legislation was recently passed in Ontario and proved beneficial in awards from arbitration. 

However, Coun. Bryan Butler said he wouldn't support the resolution because when similar changes were previously considered, the unions had raised serious concerns.

Others deny support

Mayors from New Brunswick's eight cities have taken the resolution to their individual councils. (Connell Smith/CBC)
Coun. Paul Pellerin added that it was a "bit much" to say that binding arbitration posed a financial risk to the city, as he listed the city's expenditures on the subway, subsidy for the Moncton Magic, UFC bid fee and more. 

"We've always had those," he said referring to the financial risk. "The plan this week is to reduce our capital works budget by $5 million a year and now I hate to say it but we're all crying wolf." 

Pellerin said the city should not be finding ways to get other people to pay for the city's financial decisions.

Coun. Brian Hicks asked how an arbitrator would decide on an award based in part on the ability to pay, considering the strength of Moncton's economy and how the city has found funding for the things it wants.

"I'm not sure we've thought this through," said Hicks, adding that he wouldn't support the motion. 

Coun. Charles Léger said this shouldn't be viewed as as an attack on firefighters but as a way to have an open discussion.

"I think what it is is there will be differences in what other municipalities can and cannot pay but I think it's really about fairly looking at this." 

 Léger said the resolution needed futher consideration and made the motion to table the discussion. 

"Maybe there needs to be more details, maybe the general public needs to understand this a little better." 

With files from Shane Magee