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City now knows cost of losing firefighter arbitration

Almost $30,000 of it is for new boots
20160306 Wilcox Avenue Fire KA 02
FILE PHOTO: Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

City council now knows the cost of losing a 2014 arbitration with the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Fire Fighters Association (SSMPFFA) Local 529— about $333,000.

Last month, council was informed that its firefighting staff were awarded a wage increase of 2.6-percent over their 2013 level, in line with the police wage increase of the time through interest arbitration, the final result of the union’s 2014 contract negotiations with the city..

As a result of the interest arbitration, city firefighters were also awarded the ability to work 24-hour shifts, bringing them in line with most municipalities in Ontario.

The city’s human resources department has estimated the cost implications of the interest arbitration award at $332,923.74.

Projected increases in overtime and sick time — which city staff attribute to the new 24-hour schedules — were calculated over and above the 2.6-percent wage increase, which accounted for just over $258,000 of the total increase.

A boot allowance for firefighters, which was also won in the interest arbitration, accounts for $29,520.

The new 24-hour shifts will be introduced as a 36-month trial period and city staff has said the new shifts will create challenges for the on-going training firefighters are required to complete because it is often presented over the course of a few days.

During the April 25 meeting of council in which the award was announced, fire chief Mike Figliola suggested the city’s firefighters would not be allowed to sleep during the new 24-hour shifts, despite management’s position during negotiation that stated 24 hour-long shifts were ‘dangerous’ due to the potential for sleep deprivation.

At the time, Figliola said safety was the number one concern and he would remove firefighters from service and conduct callbacks for those firefighters showing signs of sleep deprivation.

Also during the April 25 council meeting, Mayor Christian Provenzano wondered aloud why the city’s financial trouble was apparently not recognized by the province-appointed arbitrator.

“If the city of Sault Ste. Marie couldn’t make an ability-to-pay argument right now, who can make an ability to pay argument and when can they make it?” Provenzano asked at the time.

City management remains in negotiations with the SSMPFFA for contracts covering 2015, 2016 and beyond.