Vernon’s mayor is vowing to bring spiralling firefighting costs under control.
It was revealed Monday that a total of $336,879 in retroactive wages is being paid to unionized firefighters largely because the collective agreement calls for parity with their Lower Mainland counterparts.
“We can’t have six per cent awards that aren’t in line with budgets,” said Mayor Rob Sawatzky. “The firefighters may have to make some tough decisions.”
Sawatzky wouldn’t get into specifics as contract talks are underway with the union for 2012 and 2013, but he says administration is considering options to fulfill contractual obligations and keep costs in line.
Sawatzky also points out that firefighters are receiving salary hikes that are out of step with the cost of living and going to other city workers.
Historically, the city has opposed wage parity with Vancouver, with officials saying it doesn’t reflect the economic reality of Vernon.
“It’s gone to arbitrators four times and the arbitrators have supported the current process where awards are in line with the Lower Mainland,” said Sawatzky.
The city had originally budgeted for retroactive pay of $144,879 for 2013. But settlements in the Lower Mainland have resulted in a total increase of six per cent for 2010 and 2011, meaning there was a shortfall of $191,999. That money will come from reserve funds.
It’s anticipated there will be further wage increases for 2012 and 2013 once contracts are settled.
“There is wage parity in B.C. We do the same job as all firefighters and there is the same risk,” said Doug Imrich, Vernon Professional Firefighters Association vice-president.
“The job we do is the same no matter where you live. It’s no different with teachers. They get paid the same whether they live in Vancouver or Dawson Creek.”
Imrich added that firefighters work an average of 42 hours per week compared to 35 hours per week for other city employees.
“That equates to almost two more months of work each year.”
Imrich says it’s up to the city to budget appropriate funds to cover wages, including retroactive pay, and he admits there is a concern about how the city may attempt to handle costs.
“It’s something we will deal with during negotiations. I am sure we will have fair and open negotiations at that time.”