City and professional firefighters settle contract

 

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City of Powell River’s professional firefighters have reached an eight-year agreement with the city that will provide certainty in the provision of critical fire and rescue services.

Powell River’s International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) 1298 members will receive increases that will provide wage parity with other provincial departments, and retroactive pay for the four years it took to complete contact negotiations. The term of the City of Powell River’s contract with IAFF 1298 is from December 31, 2011 to December 31, 2019 with a 2.5 % annual increase.

“The city is pleased the negotiation has been concluded and provides another four years of certainty,” said Brian Cruise, the city’s acting director of human resources. He added there was goodwill shown by both parties in the bargaining process.

Bill Grantham, president of IAFF 1298, said the deal was a well-worked out compromise between the firefighters and the city. “This agreement will ensure the continuation of a positive and collaborative relationship with the city,” he said.

The reason the firefighters went nearly four years without contract settlement is because firefighter negotiations have factored in settlements in comparable BC communities. Powell River could not settle this contract with its firefighters until the comparator community contracts had been resolved. Going forward, this formula has been eliminated, so Powell River can settle independently, and consequently, more rapidly. Cruise said this should avoid retroactivity in the future.

He added that the firefighters made a concession in bargaining, spreading out retroactive pay over the next four years of the contract rather than taking one lump sum this year.

“It was good faith by the firefighters,” Cruise said. “They recognized the difficulty for the city to come up with that kind of money and they were willing to put off receiving their retroactive pay.”

The city, in its discussions with the firefighters, was able to negotiate an altered staffing schedule that provides additional dayshift support to meet operational needs at the fire hall. It will provide for a flexible schedule to put firefighters where they are needed, when they are needed.

While wage parity, retroactive pay and wage increases were a significant funding challenge, the city was able to accommodate the increased expenditures due to increased municipal revenues from an expanding local economy and by drawing on its reserve fund, thereby avoiding a property tax increase to pay for contract increases.

Grantham said the process to reach an agreement was lengthy, and the city and the firefighters did not agree on all issues, but both sides came to an agreement that they are satisfied with.

This contract puts IAFF 1298 members’ pay at the BC benchmark, which provides parity with fire departments such as those in Port Alberni and Campbell River.

“All around, we’re happy with where we are,” Grantham said. “The City of Powell River has a great fire department and we are moving on.”

 

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