Penticton firefighters wage boost puts them on par with province

Penticton firefighters are now making the same wages as their counterparts across the B.C.

Penticton firefighters are now making the same wages as their counterparts across the B.C. thanks to their new arbitrated contract agreement with the city.

According to Mike Richards, president of the Penticton IAFF (local 1399), the city’s firefighters believe it is a fair deal and will now be receiving the same wage as 98 per cent of the firefighters in the province.

The award is retroactive to Dec. 2009, when the last contract with Penticton firefighters ended. The cost of the settlement won’t come as a shock to the city’s budget, according to chief financial officer Colin Fisher. He said the city has been building a reserve fund during the last five years of negotiations.

“It involved negotiations and we had to be careful not to tip our hand. We provided for it, but it is part of the overall labour budget for any one year when it goes to council,” said Fisher.

What that final cost of the settlement will be is not known yet, though given their are 34 firefighters on staff, the price tag will easily run into the hundreds of thousands.

Simone Blais, the city’s communications officer, said it would likely be “several months” before the total cost to the city was known, given the complex nature of the calculations.

Richards confirmed that was the time frame given to the city, under the arbitrator’s decision, to pay out the retroactive wages.

The firefighters and the city agreed to go to binding arbitration last year, but it took some time to get on the arbitrator’s schedule. Richards said David McPhillips was chosen as arbitrator due to building a good reputation settling similar disputes with other fire departments.

“His schedule is pretty full. We had to find a date that worked for everybody, which was earlier in June, then he takes his time to write his award,” said Richards.

The arbitrated agreement only covers up to Dec. 2015, and then negotiations begin on a new contract. Richards is hoping it will be an easier process this time around.

“With a change at the helm at the city we are considering it water under the bridge and looking forward to the next agreement,” said Richards. “It wasn’t fun for anybody.”

Richards said he is looking forward to developing a good relationship between the firefighters and the city administration.