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City, firefighters' contract dispute bound for binding arbitration

The ongoing dispute between the city and Nanaimo’s firefighters over a new labour contract is headed for binding arbitration.

Mike Rispin, Nanaimo Professional Firefighters Local 905 president, said the union wants wage and pension parity with other municipal B.C. fire departments, which includes a six per cent wage increase and a pension  accrual rate of 2.33 per cent instead of the current two per cent over two years.

“You pay more in, but you get to retire at a higher pension a little earlier,” Rispin said. “We still have to retire at 60.”

Terry Hartley, city director of human resources and organizational planning, said most B.C. municipalities base wages and benefits on contracts set for firefighters in Vancouver.

Hartley said the city is offering a 5.5 per cent wage increase and is willing to meet the pension increase, which she said actually amounts to a 0.2-per cent accrual increase, but in exchange for a pension increase the city wants flexibility in staffing and other staffing issues that could save the taxpayers money.

“We’re willing to give it to them, but they have to give us what we need,” Hartley said.

Under the old contract, firefighters receive an annual wage increase of four percent. Negotiations for a new contract began in June 2011.

“We’ve had eight days of bargaining, three days of mediation and our contract expired Dec. 31, 2009,” Rispin said.

Hartley said from the last round of bargaining in 2009 Nanaimo firefighters received half a per cent more than their counterparts in Vancouver.

“Other places are now negotiating that, but they (firefighters’ union) actually got more last time by giving us ways to reduce overtime,” Hartley said. “There was a trade-off last time around, so they got their additional half per cent last time. They’re already half a per cent ahead of the game.”

The city’s current payroll for Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s unionized staff, based on 2010 figures, is just over $7.6 million annually.

If an arbitrator awards what the city is offering in wages and pension benefits in a new contract – Hartley said arbitrators often base their decisions on precedence set in Vancouver – the additional payroll cost will cost about $605,000 annually.

Arbitration proceedings are not expected to start before June.

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