New Brunswick

Moncton, firefighters agree on new contract and avoid binding arbitration

Moncton council has approved a new contract with the city's firefighters, reaching an agreement without using a binding arbitration system the city and other municipalities say needs to be changed. 

Deal sees wages increase nine per cent for 111 firefighters and officers

Moncton firefighters douse hotspots after a fire in an industrial park in October 2020. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Moncton council has approved a new contract with the city's firefighters, reaching an agreement without using a binding arbitration system the city and other municipalities say needs to be changed. 

The agreement with IAFF Local 999 was ratified by a unanimous council vote Monday.

It provides 2.25 per cent wage increases annually for 111 firefighters and officers. The four year contract is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020.

Ashley Graham, president of IAFF Local 999, said negotiations started in February and continued through the pandemic.

Speaking before the vote, he urged councillors to approve the contract.

"It shows how we can work cooperatively and build on the future of Moncton," Graham said. 

Moncton Coun. Bryan Butler says it was great the city and union were able to reach an agreement without resorting to binding arbitration. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Coun. Bryan Butler said it's great that both the city and the union were able to reach a deal without resorting to binding arbitration. 

"It just goes to show that when we all sit down and try to do what's best for everybody, in Moncton we always work it out," Butler said. 

The union, as well as other municipal fire and police unions, have opposed changes to the binding arbitration process the cities in the province want enacted. 

Under the Industrial Relations Act, unionized municipal firefighters and police cannot strike if they can't reach a negotiated contract.

Instead, the sides enter binding arbitration with a panel that considers how to set pay, often by considering salaries of police and firefighters in similar communities in the province. 

Municipalities argue the process has led to unsustainable wage increases, while unions say the process works and is a fair tradeoff for not being able to strike. 

A bill to amend the process to require an arbitrator to consider a municipality's ability to pay for any wage increases was introduced by the Progressive Conservative government in 2019. 

The proposed legislation died when the provincial election was called, though similar legislation has been reintroduced. It has yet to pass.

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold says the city still supports changes to the binding arbitration process. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Mayor Dawn Arnold, in a news release about the agreement, reiterated the city's support for changes to binding arbitration. 

Moncton's 2020 budget included $50,000 city staff said was to cover the cost of binding arbitration if it was required.

Moncton's last collective agreement reached in 2016 saw wage increases of 2.97 per cent annually for four years, similar to increases in Fredericton and Saint John.

At the time, Moncton staff said the city agreed to the increases to avoid binding arbitration.

"We knew our outcome would be the same or worse if we went through the costly arbitration process," said then-city manager Jacques Dubé in February 2016.

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