When the controversy surrounding the hiring of two public educators at salaries of $102,000 at the city’s fire service was raging last year, I mentioned as an aside in a column criticizing the hirings that the firefighters had been working without a contract since 2014.
When I heard recently that the paramedics, who are currently in a protracted negotiations war with city officials, complain that they had been working without a contract since March of last year, it was only natural, I suppose, that the situation regarding the firefighters came to mind.
So I put the question as to where things stood with them to Mayor Christian Provenzano and Chief Administrative Officer Al Horsman.
“In regard to the firefighters contract, is anything being done, any approach being made?” I asked. “The firefighters have been without a contract since 2014 and it is my understanding that one of the sticking points with the city is the 24-hour shift, which the firefighters got in an arbitration award in 2014. The details of implementation were to be worked out and they never have been. Apparently there is also a question surrounding a master benefits plan . . . .“Anyway, since the paramedics are complaining that they have been working without a contract for a year, I thought it timely to find out what is happening with the firefighters, who have been working without one for four years.”
– Firefighters were awarded 24-hour shifts through interest arbitration April 15, 2016.
– The Board of Arbitration remains ceased pertaining to the matter of a model for 24 hour shifts.
– Terms of implementation of the 24-hour shifts are nonetheless being negotiated and the 24-hour shifts are intended to commence Jan. 1, 2019, as agreed to by the Association.
– The Master Benefits plan for firefighters is in the midst of a grievance hearing so we are unable to comment at this time.
– The parties cannot proceed to negotiations for the next firefighters contract until all matters of the last contract (2014) are settled.
I imagine the firefighters will be pleased to hear the impasse has been broken and the 24-hour shifts will be negotiated, as per the arbitrators decision, even though it took four years to get there.
Under the 2014 arbitration award first-class firefighters saw their yearly wage total climb to $89,864, a figure I quoted in my column of March 4 last year.
Since in the past the wage of a first-class firefighter has not been far behind the wage paid a first-class constable in our police service, it would seem the city is going to face a pretty severe financial hit when forced to come up with four years of wage increases retroactively.
And, of course, it will also be faced with negotiating increases for three or four years down the road, meaning the increases will cover seven or eight years.
The mayor left it to others to respond to my question, saying: “I believe a lot of work has been done there but I’m not involved in the day to day labour work or negotiations so I will leave it to the people who are.”
I thought he might be a tad more involved than that, having gotten a lesson from the hiring of the two public educators.
“I was not aware of the details of the positions, including their salaries, until the positions were posted,” he responded to my email at the time questioning the hefty salaries. “Human resource and management functions such as writing job descriptions, grading jobs and posting jobs do not involve mayor and council.
“When I was made aware of the positions and looked at them, the salary struck me as high and I raised the matter with the CAO. Other councillors raised the same concerns with me and I ensured that administration knew that councillors shared the same concern as I.”
I wish they had also shared their concern with us, the taxpaying public, I said at the time.
And I also wished something had been done about it.
I also was hoping now that in the issue at hand our council might want to be a little more involved, or at least have some knowledge, of events at the fire service, considering what went before with the public educators.
So I emailed several councillors asking how informed they were about the state of negotiations with the firefighters, mentioning they were working under a 2014 contract.
Only three replied, one directly saying no comment, one basically saying no comment, one saying council was not informed about negotiations and expressing surprise that the firefighters were working under a 2014 contract.
In regard to the public educators, although two were hired, one was let go after six weeks; the total cost to the city for that brief hiring come out at more than $22,000. That, of course, was small potatoes compared to what would have been paid out on a yearly basis if the person had been kept on the job.
I have never been able to find out whether the one person hired was let go because those in the administration came to their senses or came under pressure, nor why both were not let go.
In his reply, Horsman also laid out how I should forward any future questions I have for city officials”
“Our Corporate Communications Division is led by Ms. Tessa Vecchio copied here., he wrote. “Per the media relations policy now in place at the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie, it’s asked that all media inquiries be funneled through Tessa who will arrange an appropriate and timely response. In future, could you please send questions such as the contract information transmitted here to Tessa to coordinate internally for a response.”
Ah, for the old days of ease of access, when you were on a first-name business with most of the managers at city hall and could pick up the phone and speak with them directly.
Now who would come up with such a change and why?
Job creation maybe?