The contract battle between the firefighters’ union and the City of Burnaby that spanned the last four years is over, for now.
Earlier this month, an arbitrator awarded the firefighters a four-year contract with a 2.5 per cent increase each year until the end of 2015.
Jeff Clark, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 323, noted the arbitrator’s decision was exactly what the union was asking for, and was also in line with other departments in the region.
However, he said members are frustrated that the union had to spend $70,000 to take the case to arbitration, let alone the cost to taxpayers.
“It was obvious in the arbitrator’s outcome that we could have signed that deal with terms and wages 18 months ago and we would have been well on our way to negotiations for the next term,” Clark said.
Since the contract only runs to the end of 2015, the union and city are back at the negotiating table working on another contract.
The City of Burnaby and the firefighters’ union had been trying to negotiate a new contract for more than a year, before it went to arbitration in July.
The union had been without a contract since 2011, and the dispute created animosity on both sides, especially between firefighters and Mayor Derek Corrigan. At one point the firefighters staged a silent sit-in at a council meeting last fall, and this spring the union suggested Corrigan was behind the city pulling out of in-kind funding for its annual charitable ball over the dispute.
Corrigan denied he was behind the move, suggesting the city wasn’t invited to the event.
The union, which has long supported the Burnaby Citizens Association and current council, stopped providing financial support to the party at the end of 2014 over the squabble with the contract.
The union also said it won’t be supporting the party in the next election, coming in 2018.
Though Clark said he’s proud of his members for being patient and taking the high road – also thanking residents for the support over the years – he noted the contract dispute has taken a toll on morale at the fire hall.
But as the two sides begin to sit down and work on a new deal, the head of the union is hopeful and confident the next round of bargaining will be completed in a timely manner.
Even though the dispute was acrimonious, Clark suggested the relationship between the firefighters and the city can be repaired.
“We’re proud to work for the city and serve the taxpayers,” he said, adding both sides of the dispute respect each other’s position.
The NOW reached out to Corrigan for comment, but he did not respond prior to press deadline.