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Firefighters make case for pay hike

Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association president Wade Ritchie, centre, and the union’s legal counsel, Garth Smorang, left, and Joel Deeley, right, are shown during the first day of arbitration on Tuesday, when the union presented its case to the panel.

JILLIAN AUSTIN/BRANDON SUN Enlarge Image

Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association president Wade Ritchie, centre, and the union’s legal counsel, Garth Smorang, left, and Joel Deeley, right, are shown during the first day of arbitration on Tuesday, when the union presented its case to the panel.

The contract dispute between local firefighters and the City of Brandon has been called a "David and Goliath scenario" by the lawyer representing the Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association.

Tuesday marked Day 1 of the long-awaited arbitration hearing, and first up was Garth Smorang, legal counsel for the firefighters’ association.

The union is small, representing only 75 fire/paramedic members, Smorang said, and is "one-tenth" the size of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.

"The city on the other hand has significant resources, there are people whose job it is daily … to prepare proposals and research bargaining positions," he said. "It is well-resourced both in terms of personnel and money."

Smorang presented to the three-member arbitration board on Tuesday — chair Michael Werier, the city’s nominee, Rob Simpson, and the union’s nominee, Alex Forrest. He outlined four issues that the union has referred to arbitration, including the term of the contract.

The union is asking for a four-year contract, with a 21 per cent wage increase — nine per cent, six per cent, three per cent and three per cent.

The city isn’t budging from its original offer of a six per cent increase over three years — a two per cent increase for 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The contract ended in December 2011, and despite lengthy negotiations, including 10 face-to-face bargaining meetings, the union and the city were unable to come to an agreement.

"The union is now 27 months without a new contract, as of today," Smorang said. "I’m going to assume … that you will take in the neighbourhood of two months … to issue an award ... If the city’s position is granted by you — a three-year contract — that will be virtually seven months till its end."

Smorang said preparing proposals "literally weeks after" an award, is not in anyone’s interest.

The hearing, held at the Victoria Inn, brought out roughly 50 people — 25 on the city’s side, 25 on the union’s side. Tuesday was the union’s chance to present its case.

The union is seeking double time for overtime when a firefighter is called in to work when they are off-duty.

Smorang referenced the fact that Brandon police officers get double time on all overtime, except for training. Also, he said four of five comparator cities have double time for firefighters when called in for any duty while off duty.

The union is also seeking enhancements to its retirement pay. Currently upon retirement, members are entitled to one day’s pay for each full year of service, maximum 45 days. The proposal is to increase retirement pay from one day to three days for each year of service, but keep the maximum at 45.

The fourth, and most contentious, issue is firefighter wages. Smorang spent most of the afternoon presenting facts on why firefighters should be getting comparable wages to local police officers, as well as comparator cities in western Canada.

"The stress of the job, of both fire and police, the shift work, the danger, the critical protection of the public role that they fulfil, the training and the skill level that is required" are all reasons why Smorang says arbitrators consistently make the police-to-fire comparison when determining wages.

Comparable cities include Prince Albert, Sask., Moose Jaw, Sask., Medicine Hat, Alta., Lethbridge, Alta., and Red Deer, Alta.

Smorang pointed out that between 1995 and 2005, firefighters in Brandon were receiving "almost equal" wages to the five-city average.

"Since 2005 we’ve seen a widening of that gap," he said.

In firefighters to police comparison, they were comparable between 1975 and 2005, but the gap began to widen there following that date as well. A new three-year contract was recently announced for Brandon Police Association, which sees a salary increase of 8.75 per cent over three years.

By 2011, firefighters were 10 per cent below their police counterparts, and depending on this contract, they could be 14 per cent behind in 2015.

Wade Ritchie, president of the union, said it’s important to stay competitive with other centres of similar size for recruitment and retention.

"Over the last five, six years, Brandon’s lost upwards of 20 firefighters to other departments" due to wage and working conditions, Ritchie said.

Ritchie said the gap between Brandon and its comparator cities is growing, currently below by 10 to 12 per cent.

Smorang presented several video clips of past Brandon City Council meetings, dating back to 2002, where council discussed past contracts that were decided upon using comparator cities.

"Analysis and comparators are always going to be there," city manager Scott Hildebrand said. "I think the arbitrators are going to have to weigh that out in their decision on how much local and interprovincial comparators are used. I understand that we’ve kind of relied on that for a while, but … times change and 2014 is much different than some of the videos that were shown in 2002."

Hildebrand said the union’s demand of 21 per cent over four years, plus the other significant contract enhancements is "alarming."

Leaving the hearing following Day 1, Ritchie said he is "very confident" with the union’s evidence.

"It’s like a sense of relief that it’s finally there," he said. "We’ve put a lot of hard work into this."

The City of Brandon presents its case today.

» jaustin@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @jillianaustin

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 2, 2014

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Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 6 Commentscomment icon

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I have nothing against the City Police, I think they do a great job, but why is it that they get a big increase with no resistance from the City but when it comes time for the firefighters they put the brakes on?? Hell we don't even get a heads up when the Police get raises it is always brought to light after the fact.<br />The City said they had the comparatives of other Cities to go by for their raise (the Police) but now when the firefighters show their comparatives the City says they don't like using comparatives to go by for wage increases?? WTH make up your minds City of Brandon.<br /><br />Wage freeze for all City employees after this year!<br />

IF they continue with this, they MAY be forcing the taxpayers of Brandon to unite in a little union of their own in which we collectively gather and tell them that this just ISN'T going to happen, that WE are NOT going to take it anymore!

IF they want to keep their jobs then perhaps they need to accept a pay FREEZE.

Otherwise, let's look at replacing the ENTIRE Fire Dept. with something MORE affordable for the taxpayers of Brandon.

This is what I think they should ALL be told and then proceed with it.

Carry through with your actions immediately after making this pronouncement.

Don't be namby pamby.

Stand UP to these greedy, unrealistic dogs.

Mean what you say. Say what you mean and then follow through with your actions.

Perhaps this is what is needed/required at this time.

Enough is enough now!

Stand UP to these unions now and MAINTAIN your stand, no matter what!

IF they don't accept your stance, throw them ALL out and replace them.

Then they'll learn.

I think ALL wages should be frozen.

In some places city departments are looking at and have implemented pay cuts/reductions.

People are getting taxed right OUT of their homes and I know of several individuals/families who plan on leaving this city if a pay increase for, yet another union, goes through.

Common sense needs to somehow find it's way into the hallowed chambers of City Hall.

These are days of AUSTERITY, cutbacks, looking for ways to SAVE money, NOT days of trying to spend MORE money and further taxing already tapped out taxpayers. Oh my goodness, already!

People nowadays should consider themselves VERY FORTUNATE to have a job never mind trying to figure out ways to suck even MORE MONEY out of people.

ALL of these union members who want a raise should be required to pay HIGHER TAXES and then that additional money that is pooled from THEIR income could be put into a slush fund and go towards giving them the higher wages that they are seeking.

I think that now you are crossing into what is commonly referred to as greed.

Almost every city around the world is struggling with this very scenario.

How DARE these unions ask the taxpayers of Brandon for even MORE money?

How is it you have the AUDACITY to do that?

Does the City of Brandon wish to bankrupt itself as the City of Detroit did?

Guess what largely killed the City of Detroit?

Paying these REPEATED HEFTY union increments.

The province of Sask. is looking better and better, almost daily, for many folks.

Stress of the job? How about the stress of paying my taxes? I get 1% every year raise on my disability pay which mean my take home actually goes down! Paying the cops and firefighters AND teachers these ridiculess amounts is killing me!

75 people is a "small" union? Not for Western Manitoba, smallest I've seen is 5 people or less. Guess facts are subject to certain optics when you're in a union.

Does anyone care that the taxpayers are broke and getting more so? We are left to eke out a living. People like us do not receive any raise, some of us have to live with zero percent contracts for years. Can any one police officer or firefighter publicly say to the citizens of Brandon that they do not think they make a generous salary already?

Arlene Saito

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The contract dispute between local firefighters and the City of Brandon has been called a "David and Goliath scenario" by the lawyer representing the Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association.

Tuesday marked Day 1 of the long-awaited arbitration hearing, and first up was Garth Smorang, legal counsel for the firefighters’ association.

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The contract dispute between local firefighters and the City of Brandon has been called a "David and Goliath scenario" by the lawyer representing the Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association.

Tuesday marked Day 1 of the long-awaited arbitration hearing, and first up was Garth Smorang, legal counsel for the firefighters’ association.

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