The City of Penticton won’t be bearing the full burden of the 2.5 per cent increase included in Penticton firefighters’ new contract, thanks to some trade-offs made at the negotiating table.
“I think both parties came to the table looking for some solutions and were willing to make some concessions. There was some give and take and we tried to go with a cost neutral approach,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit.
That involved a number of administrative changes and streamlining, including implementing a six-month probationary period for new firefighters, and corresponding pay.
“I think there was some good common sense approaches and efficiencies,” said Jakubeit.
For his part, Mike Richards, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Penticton local, was happy with how quickly the contract negotiations went, especially considering they had to go to binding arbitration for the last one after five years of negotiation with the city.
Richards, who has been on the executive for 16 years, said this is the first contract he can remember where they didn’t at least have to go to mediation.
“It was clear up front that the goal was to come to a mutual agreement and all throughout the process there was never any negative direction. It was always forward, always positive for the future of the department,” said Richards.
“We understand the city has a business to run and sometimes we end up at loggerheads. We weren’t any differently prepared to bargain this round than we were when we started back in 2009 on that last round. The difference was the direction the city wanted to go.
“We were able to explore some of those ideas that we had then and applied now to look at more modern ways to deliver the fire service, which in a lot of ways is more efficient.”
The arbitrated agreement, which was effective to Dec. 31, 2015, was handed down last July, awarding Penticton firefighters $1.89 million in retroactive pay, a 16 per cent wage increase over the five-year term and confirmed the ideal of wage parity across the province. The city had attempted to overturn the arbitrated settlement with a suit filed in B.C. Supreme Court last October, which was overturned by Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce in May.
Jakubeit said that has been put behind them now, but the city is continuing to protest wage parity. A resolution coming to the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities conference asking the province to address using Vancouver as the standard for wage parity.
“There is still going to be a conversation on wage parity being linked to the most expensive place in Canada to live,” said Jakubeit, adding that he expects it will probably be two to three years before the province gets around to any changes, if they were to happen at all.
“We are going through the motions there, because it does make sustainability of those increases difficult for smaller communities that don’t have the resident base or tax base or growth,” said Jakubeit.
Richards said the new contract gives Penticton firefighters substantial gains, especially in terms of benefits, where they were falling behind other city workers and other Okanagan fire departments. But the speed of the negotiations was another big win.
“I think probably the biggest win here is that we are now working together,” said Richards.
“Morale is huge and there was a nervousness that I think has been resolved.