By Robert Tuomi
(WINDSOR, ON) – While the wait continues on the part of Windsor, civic officials and municipal staff in the largest city in Northwestern Ontario are right now pouring over the results of an arbitrator’s decision relative to the pay of its smoke eaters. In Windsor the results of an arbitration process with its fire-fighters has been dragging on for years, eight to be precise, and is expected soon.
If what happened in Thunder Bay is any example, the arbitrated agreement could cost Windsor taxpayers plenty, at least that is what city council wants you to believe. If nothing else the mayor of Windsor has been planting a seed that the decision will see the city spending big bucks for fire truck riders. The Windsor Star reported on May 10, 2013 that there is a dread at city hall on a process that started in 2006 with the Star actually complaining that, “When the decision on a new collective agreement finally comes, the hit on city taxpayers will be big, said Mayor Eddie Francis, adding he and CAO Helga Reidel are bracing for a multimillion-dollar ruling.”
According to the Star the mayor whined that he is, “not exaggerating here…. This is the one we wake up to every day, Helga and I, and we ask each other: ‘Have you heard anything yet?’”
Here in a nutshell is what happened in Thunder Bay as reported by the Chronicle Journal on June 12, 2013. Not only will fire-fighters now be, “paid for unused sick days and bonuses at three stages of their careers, the bonuses now are to be applied to the sick days pay-out. Does someone in the fire union sit up nights thinking of ever more outrageous demands? It sure seems that nothing is too outlandish for provincial arbitrators who keep agreeing to them.”
The paper seems as concerned as Windsor mayor Francis is about that city’s ability to pay for what is described as extremes and opines that although, “labour law says that arbitrators are supposed to factor in a municipality’s economic situation when making decisions, they routinely hand out royal raises and bonuses to civil servants who are similarly oblivious to what it costs taxpayers.”
Fire-fighters in the city by the bay will now earn what is called recognition pay. It is a bonus of 3% after eight years, 6% after 17 and 9% after 23%. The paper is inferring, and you can bet an editorial will be issued that will provide the same pabulum from the Windsor Star once Windsor’s fate is known, that this money is both unearned and unwelcome to taxpayers.
However the northern town seems to be gifted in that it does not seem to be run by inwards. A Paul Pugh said to be a former union leader has taken a stand supporting the fire-fighters and says he is not impressed with the city trying to impose conditions on arbitrators because they make decisions municipal managers might not like. He made his position crystal clear by saying, “I find that totally objectionable. I oppose further attacks on workers regardless of what category they may be. I will not be supporting any efforts to curtail the rights of working people.”
Pugh is right but possibly not for the reasons espoused in his argument. The real issue here is not what an arbitrator decides but rather what is a fire-fighter, or a police officer for that matter, worth? The whole negotiating process is one of nickels and dimes that does nothing to really set up a pay package to really compensate those on the fire squad for risking their lives to protect others. It may well be that what they are paid is too much. It may well be that what they are paid is too little. But at some point this is a decision that requires leadership by the local council and that must be made.
Unfortunately that is never decided resulting in an argument that invariably centres on percentages and bonus payments and sick time leaves, in short, something bureaucrats like because it gives them numbers to play around with. What is most important is not how many millions of dollars this will cost in a city like Windsor in which millions of dollars mean nothing. It is true, millions of taxpayer dollars have no value in the once rosy city run by a mayor who, at will, destroys neighbourhoods by closing pools, arenas, parks and community centres and spends millions on misguided projects that do not pay property taxes.
One of the reasons money is the issue is because the city is losing so much because of the misadventures of the mayor. It has to come from somewhere and if the fire-fighters get more it means less for Francis.
This fact is often clouded by the media who jump to the mayor’s defence and argue that the arbitration ruling will cost taxpayers’ money and never ask the taxpayers if this is money they are willing to spend. Oddly these same reporters show no concern or willingness to sound the alarm when the mayor spends many millions on white elephants and other failures.
As Harry Shorten and Al Fagaly once said, “There Oughta Be A Law.” The fact is that there oughta be a law that stops all the hubris and posturing on fire-fighter’s pay until the community comes together and decides for itself what a fire-fighter is worth.
Should their pay equal their life prospects? Fire-fighters are on frontlines that may be damaging to their health. Cardioblog.org reported on February 3, 2012 that a, “few months back news came in stating, fire-fighters are more prone to prostate cancer and this time researchers have come out giving another shock to these fire-fighters, transpiring the fact that fire fighting increases fire-fighter’s vulnerability to coronary heart disease (CHD) by up to 100 times than non-emergency duties.”
What really should a person be paid to face a line of duty in which the odds are not good about getting sick. Should Windsor’s chief administrative officer be one of the highest paid in Ontario? She runs a city unable to maintain its roads and parks and even brags that city staff have trouble finding its parks.
There is something wrong in Windsor and it is not the pay of fire-fighters. Its citizens need to honour those on the fire squad with appropriate pay, whatever it is.
They need to show appreciation every day they wake up in the morning and have not been interrupted in the middle of the night by a fire-fighter helping them leave a burning home.
The community needs to take back the city from the inwards and the highly paid but ineffective bureaucrats and set up some community supported rules on pay that equals performance and value to the community.
While the raises the chief administrator was blessed with could have easily have been given to the fire-fighters who prove every day they know how to do their jobs.
Without question there can never be value in nickel and diming the most brave among us.
For more of the Rest of the News listen to CJAM 99.1 Monday evenings at 8:30.