Firefighters, City of Nanaimo reach tentative contract agreement

NANAIMO – Terms of deal not released until sides ratify agreement.

The City of Nanaimo and its firefighters have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract, but neither side is willing to discuss terms until it’s ratified by both sides.

Terry Hartley, city director of human resources and organizational planning, said the parties came to a tentative settlement when they met Friday.

“So far, so good,” Hartley said. “We have a tentative settlement, however, that has to be ratified by the parties, so in the union’s case that has to be ratified by their members and in the employer’s case that’s city council.”

The announcement marks a reversal in the direction the dispute was headed as recently as last week when it was scheduled to go to binding arbitration Dec. 9.

Nanaimo firefighters’ old contract expired Dec. 31, 2009 and negations for a new contract started in June 2011.

Under the old contract, Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s unionized staff got an annual four-per cent wage increase and a pension accrual rate of just over two per cent.

During the bargaining process, the firefighters’ union asked for parity with other B.C. municipal fire departments, which included a six-per cent annual wage increase and a pension accrual rate of 2.3 per cent.

The city countered with a 5.5-per cent wage increase and the asked-for accrual rate, but wanted flexibility in staffing and other staffing issues addressed that could save the city money in exchange.

Both sides met in August to try and get a settlement or at least narrow the issues in dispute to speed up the arbitration process. Smaller, subcommittee meetings have taken place since.

Hartley said she would not discuss the content of the settlement until after ratification is announced, which is expected today (Nov. 21).

“I think it would be fair to say that both parties have moved since January, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to have achieved an agreement, but I think both parties made movements,” Hartley said.

Mike Rispin, Nanaimo Professional Firefighters Local 905 president, was equally tight-lipped about the tentative agreement.

“We’re going to ratify it tomorrow (Wednesday) night,” Rispin said. “None of my members know any thing about it at this point, so I don’t think it would be appropriate for the media to know and the public to know before I get them to know.”

Rispin said he was satisfied with compromises made by both sides.

“We’re going to recommend it to our membership to ratify this,” Rispin said.

The city’s annual payroll for Nanaimo Fire Rescue unionized staff, based on figures from 2010, was just over $7.6 million.