Cornwall firefighters get much of their demands from arbitrator

Cornwall firefighters get much of their demands from arbitrator
A Cornwall firefighter scales an aerial ladder to reach the top of a burning multi-plex on Montreal Road last year.

CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall firefighters got much of what they asked for in a lucrative arbitration award presented to union members this week.

Raises of 7.5 per cent (over the course of the three-year agreement), as well as a 24 hour-shift schedule and other perks were announced according to a document filed by arbitrator William Kaplan.

A first-class firefighter will now make more than $90,000 annually, compared to the $84,500 currently on the books, prior to overtime.

Jason Crites, president of the Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association, reserved comment on the award when reached by Seaway News, saying he wants to make sure city administrators have a chance to study the award.

City officials were not available for comment, but Mayor Leslie O’Shaughnessy was asked weeks ago if he felt the 8.6 per cent pay hike the firefighters demanded at an arbitration hearing was too much.

“I do believe that would be an understatement to some extent,” he replied.

The pay increases awarded this week break down to 2.5 per cent per year for 2013, 2014 and this year.

While the hefty 7.5 per cent pay hike was less than the 8.6 per cent the union had requested during negotiations with the city, they received other awards in the arbitrator’s decision.

Firefighters were granted 24-hour shifts that will begin Jan. 1, 2017 and will last as a pilot-project for three years. Twenty four-hour shifts have become a mainstay in many Ontario communities and the city had been bracing for this decision.

Many conclusions have been reached that suggest the 24-hour shift schedule doesn’t cost more, but can create scheduling headaches and other human resources challenges. As an example, the 24-hour shifts are often enjoyed more by younger members of the service, while older members may despise them.

Typically a firefighter on a 24-hour schedule works seven days a month. A firefighter with 16 years on the job will also now get five weeks of vacation time per year.

While city hall has not officially responded to the award, a member of the municipality’s negotiating committee expressed dissatisfaction with the arbitrator’s decision by way of a written dissent.

“While I agree with the salary increases for 2013 and 2014, I submit that the Jan. 1, 2015 increase should not have exceeded two per cent,” said Michael Riddell, the city nominee on its committee. “In addition, there were no compelling reasons to award the improvement to the five-week vacation entitlement.”

The city will have to get right back to negotiating with firefighters. This arbitration award covers a contract that expires at the end of this year – just a few weeks away.

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