Fire contract dispute smouldering

The long running contract dispute between the City of Penticton and its firefighters has been snuffed out, at least for a few months.

The long running contract dispute between the City of Penticton and its firefighters has been snuffed out

The long running contract dispute between the City of Penticton and its firefighters has been snuffed out

The long running contract dispute between the City of Penticton and its firefighters has been snuffed out, at least for a few months.

Penticton’s firefighters have been without a contract since the last one ended in 2009. In the meantime negotiations went back and forth, until both sides agreed to go to binding arbitration in July 2014.

The dispute was finally heard by an arbitrator in early June, according to Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, and a decision was returned in late July.

“The agreement covers 2010 to 2015 and it expires in December,” said Jakubeit, who explained that the arbitrator awarded the firefighters 1.5 per cent increases in January and June of the first two years, then 2.5 per cent each year after that.

The pay increase is retroactive, and Jakubeit said the money will come out of the 2016 budget.

“Obviously it will have an impact on our budget,” said Jakubeit, who declined to say what the final cost for the city will be.

“I don’t want to speculate, but there are 34 (firefighters) with the inspectors, and most of them are in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. It is a larger number, that is for sure,” he said.  The city’s finance department is still in the process of calculating the total cost.

“It goes back a few years and we have two payroll systems, so they are still figuring out exactly what that total number is,” he said.

But the city and the firefighters will soon be back at the bargaining table, trying to hammer out a new contract. Jakubeit hopes with new people on the city’s side of the table — Fire Chief Wayne Williams is retiring later this year and Eric Sorenson has just taken over as chief administrative officer — negotiations will go smoother and not take six years.

“Maybe with some fresh faces, we can find some common ground with the union and figure things out,” he said. “It’s got to be a deal that makes sense for both parties. It will start being addressed in early 2016.”

Mike Richards, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Penticton local, was unavailable for comment.