New Brunswick

Saint John firefighters win 12% pay hike in arbitration

Full-time Saint John firefighters will get a 12 per cent pay hike over four years, an arbitration board has ruled.

Other city employees agreed to 2-year wage freeze

Full-time Saint John firefighters will get a 12 per cent pay hike over four years, an arbitration board has ruled.

But the decision is raising questions about where the money will come from in the cash-strapped city.

Coun. Donnie Snook says an assertion by the firefighters' union that the city's financial situation is "good" is out of touch.

"It is not palatable for me at all to find one more penny for the fire department in this year's budget — especially to cover off raises that are being awarded," he said.

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.

But wages continued to be an issue in negotiations between the Saint John Firefighters' Association and the city and the raise was one concession awarded by the arbitration board.

Impact on city unclear

Snook says it's not yet clear what the firefighters' new contract will mean for the city. Council expects to receive a report from city staff next week, looking at its impact.

But the fire chief shouldn't expect a budget increase, stressed Snook.

"He will be provided with a budget that is fair. He will be provided with an envelope of money that this city can afford to provide him with, and he's going to have to make that work," he said.

"Unfortunately, it's going to cause pressure on his budget, absolutely, no question about that. And he's going to be challenged to maintain the current level of fire service at the same time as awarding significant pay increases."

Coun. Bill Farren says he isn't sure what the consequences will be for city spending.

"In these tough economic times, it's very difficult to manage any type of wage increase at all. So, again, I don't know what the final numbers come down to, but  it's going to be hard to manage," he said.

The city had been looking for a two-year wage freeze followed by a 1.5 per cent increase for three years for firefighters.

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