City firefighters are frustrated and discouraged that they’ve been without a contract for almost seven years says their union leader.
The city and its firefighters have been in arbitration since a collective agreement expired at the end of 2003 said Eric Nordlund, president of Thunder Bay Professional Firefighters Association. While there are numerous details in the contract being disputed, Nordlund said the main issue is salaries.
Nordlund said firefighters want to be paid the same as members of the Thunder Bay Police Service. As of Jan. 1, 2010, a first class rate police officer makes $80,184 while a first class rate fire fighter makes $68,696 as of Jan. 1, 2006 when an arbitrator ruled in favour of an interim wage increase.
"I just find it very discouraging to see how our local firefighters have been treated by this mayor and council," Nordlund said. "They (the city) have some unreasonable expectations."
While Nordlund, along with city officials, did not want to discuss specific details of the arbitration he said the money given to the city’s 200 fire fighters if arbitration rules in their favour could be millions of dollars.
"It would be a considerable sum. Essentially they’ve been reaching into our wallets for x number of years but you can look at it any number of ways," Nordlund. "All those things we have to pay day in day out, those costs continue to go up… in essence we’re doing that four years behind in salary."
Nordlund said it’s the status quo for the city and firefighters to enter into negotiations when contracts expire and that arbitration consistently rules in favour of the fire fighters. While he said he’s given up speculating when a deal could be reached, Nordlund said he’s confident the arbitration process will rule in favuor of fire fighters again.
Coun. Robert Tuchenhagen, who also did not want to discuss details, said he wants the arbitration process, which is public, to be in council chambers and broadcast on Shaw Cable so that the public can see both sides of the issue.
Tuchenhagen added that he doesn’t think fire fighters would get much sympathy if members of the community could see the process.
"In my opinion the fire fighters are the most spoiled group of municipal employees that we have and part of it is the arbitration process," he said.
"Until the province of Ontario shows some leadership and changes the arbitration process we’re going to get results from the arbitrators that again in my opinion are not in touch with reality that this community is facing."