Thursday, September 13, 2018

Arbitration Panel sends City's Firefighters and Municipal government back to the negotiation table to try to resolve salary parity issue

"This Panel has arrived at certain conclusions with respect to the interpretation of Article 2.01 and Addendum I of the Collective Agreement. 

 However, this Panel has decided not to particularize a specific remedy. 

 Rather, as happens in many labour relations matters, we have decided to remit the issue of the specific remedy back to the parties. 

 However, should the parties be unsuccessful in settling this matter, this Panel proposes to set this matter down for a one day mediation/arbitration."

The concluding notes above from an arbitration panel in New Westminster, charts the course ahead for the Prince Rupert Firefighters Union and the City of Prince Rupert, to try to bring a now eight year unresolved process related to salary parity issues to completion.

The dispute involves a retroactive grievance on salary parity pay provisions that would see Prince Rupert Firefighters compensated at levels similar to those in Vancouver, and while the issue of salary parity is not in question, how the City has calculated the process of reaching those levels is.

The arbitration panel consisting of Stan Lanyon QC, Herb Dusdal and Lorne West held two days of hearings in May of this year and reviewed much of the history to the ongoing discussions that first started in 2011.

Those discussions at the time, had called for a gradual approach to pay parity with Vancouver, so as to not provide for any undue financial burden on the City of Prince Rupert to close the gap.

The quest for salary parity actually had its first introduction back in 2004, however the arbitrator at that time (the same Mr Lanyon of the 2018 hearings) had declined the parity award due to the serious economic circumstances that had been experienced by the City of Prince Rupert in the early period of this century.

Conditions that had affected the city following the closure of the pulp mill at Watson Island and other financial concerns of the time.

The salary issue came back to the forefront during the course of the 2011-12 negotiations with the template for the City of Prince Rupert to use at the time, that of how Fort Nelson had addressed a similar issue, taking a gradual basis, based on equal slices.

The account of the May 2018 hearings and August award announcement which you can review here, outlines a complete timeline of the discussions and disagreements between the two sides from 2011 through to this year.

At the centre of the dispute is how the city has calculated the wage parity provisions and a determination by the City, that it had actually overpaid its fire fighters when it implemented pay parity.

City Manager Bob Long has been one
of the civic officials involved in the
ongoing dispute over salary parity
for Prince Rupert Firefighters
From the documentation of the report from August we can see how the issue gained further advancement in the first year of the current City council mandate, when City Manager Robert Long forwarded a correspondence to the fire fighters in May of 2015 which stated that the city:"wanted the issue of retroactivity settled “expeditiously”, and that if the Union continued to disagree with the City’s calculation of retroactivity, the matter should be sent to a third party for resolution."

Something the Firefighters union disagreed with and in September of 2015 had filed a grievance over, stating that the City had failed to “properly calculate and pay the correct amount of retroactive pay to each member for the years 2013 - 2014”.  

They union followed up with another correspondence less than one month later, registering a complaint "that the City had not responded to its grievance, nor to phone call messages that it had left with the City"

The City replied to that grievance by way of a letter on October 19th of 2015,  noting that it was rejecting it, evoking article six of the collective agreement. With Mr. Long advising "that the grievance was out of time, having been filed some nine months after the matter was initially discussed."

The arbitrator review of August notes that:

"As can be seen in Article 6.01(a) there is no time limit set out for the filing of a grievance. 

Indeed, this provision only places an onus on the City to meet with the Union “within five days of application to the City”. 

 A dispute could mean an ongoing disagreement and continuous discussion as is inferred in Mr. Long’s letter. 

However, given the entirety of Article 6, “Adjustments of Grievances”, and the heading of Article 6.01, “Settling of Grievance”, the word “dispute” is probably best interpreted as the actual filing of a grievance. Article 6.02 then deals with the appointment of an arbitration board to hear such a grievance."

And from that point we travel forward to last month and the three member arbitration panel review and their findings.

The determining factors for the Arbitration panel can be found in section 108 of their decision of August 22nd, where they conclude:

"that the parties mutually intended to achieve wage parity as of January 1, 2015 by establishing the net difference between the 1st class wage rates in Prince Rupert as of December 31, 2011 and Vancouver as of January 1, 2015 (the parity goal date), dividing this difference by four, and applying these four equal payments to the Prince Rupert Fire Fighters wage rate. 

Additionally, should the Vancouver Fire Fighters receive an increase during the life of the Collective Agreement, those increases would be inserted into Addendum 1, “where appropriate”. 

It is my conclusion that this incorporates both the basic framework set out in Article 2.01 and Addendum 1, gives meaning to all the words in the Collective Agreement and provides a harmonious interpretation to Article 2.01 and Addendum 1."

From that interpretation, the panel determined that the difference between the wage rate of the Prince Rupert Fire Fighters as of December 31, 2011 ($62,307.38) and the Vancouver Fire Fighters as of January 1, 2015 ($89,568.00) was $27,260.62.

Noting that One quarter of this amount is $6,815.16.

With their decision and award notification, the panel has effectively told the two sides to try and find some common ground towards a solution to the issue, otherwise they will face the prospect of having their differences resolved through a one day mediation process.

The most recent salary levels for the Prince Rupert Fire Department (without the parity grievance amounts) were included as part of this years Statement of Financial Information process.

While the long standing grievance between the Fire fighters and the City started well before this current Council took office in 2014, the ongoing dispute has not made for any discussion in public session through the four year term of this council's mandate.

The August announcement from the arbitration panel providing perhaps for the first notice for much of the community that the issue has had such a lengthy timeline and remains to be an issue of note between the City government and its fire fighters.

More items of note related to City of Prince Rupert discussions can be found from our archive page here.

While the case files of Emergency Responders across the Northwest can be examined from our Emergency Responders archive page.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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