The following is in response to the media’s question, “what is midlandcommunity.ca‘s reaction to the recent arbitrated award concerning the Corporation of The Town of Midland and Midland Professional Fire Fighters Association- Fire Services”?
We reviewed the most recent arbitration decision between Midland and its Fire Service. We are shocked that in this day and age, an agreement covering the last 4 years, negotiated or arbitrated, would retroactively award any group of employees pay increases in the 3-4% range annually. Simple math suggests an added $200,000- burden to the already strapped Midland taxpayer. To make matters worse the agreement has now elapsed as of December 31, 2012.
Town employees, Teachers, Doctor’s and other professional groups, whose salaries are paid for by the taxpayers at large have witnessed their pay packages get reset as a result of the troubled economic times. Why not Midland Police and Midland Fire? Are they unique and immune to the financial constraintsthe rest of the community endures?
Interest arbitration boards give significant weight to the terms and conditions, specifically pay and related benefits, that are in effect at the time with Police. Unbelievably, the Midland Police Services Board set the stage for the Fire agreement when they negotiated a 4% increase for its members in respect of 2013. This in our view is most irresponsible on two fronts; first it is excessive by any reasonable standard; and second, it served as a benchmark for Fire during this set of discussions. Midland Fire, as we now know, conveniently took their case to interest arbitration in July of last year, knowing that the Board of Arbitration would reference and importantly, give consideration to the negotiated Police settlement. The notion of benchmarking dissimilar comparators and chasing artificial ceilings is frightening. Costs simply keep going up; up at a time when people in the community simply can’t afford it.
Remember, Midland’s Fire department and Police force serve and support a town that boasts virtually no growth. No growth in population should mean no growth in their annual operating budgets. KPMG pointed out that Midland resides in the high tax, low-income box, a place you’d only want to reside if you like train wrecks. Many of our residents are retirees on fixed incomes, and those that are fortunate enough to find gainful employment here in Midland earn significantly less money than the Simcoe County average. Furthermore our taxes are already one of the highest amongst any and all comparators and in a phrase, “are off the chart”!
Arbitration Award Highlights:
a) Midland inexplicably didn’t argue “an ability to pay” in front of the Board of Arbitration. KPMG six weeks earlier stated that Midland was on a problematic spending trajectory that required swift action. Simply stated, we have no more money to give and if these employees of the town want more, then we must change the service delivery model which invariably will result in reducing the workforce, both management and non-management personnel.
b) Midland argued that the term of the contract cover the period from 2009-2010 only. The Board in its naive wisdom concluded that it needed to go out to 2012 to preserve harmonious labor relations and so ordered the change in scope.
c) The cumulative salary increase awarded over this 4-year period provides for an approximate 14% increase to the base pay of a first class Fire Fighter. Base Pay moves from $72,095 in July 01/2008 to $83,048 paid in October 30/2012. Believe it or not, the union representatives demanded more. Add another 30%+ for benefits and we witness some very attractive total compensation packages, well over a $100,000 annually. Again, in very turbulent economic times when everyone else is cutting back.
d) If this wasn’t enough, the arbitration Board decided to support the Firefighters union’s demand and increased vision care and several other medical/fringe benefits.
e) The union also demanded an increase to rank differentials and the board agreed. This decision effectively provides an additional pay increase for the Fire Training Officer, the Fire Prevention Officer and the Fire Captains effective January 01/2013. This increase of $2491- (3%) annually added on top of their new base equates to a starting salary of $95,505.20 for these three positions, excluding benefit costs.
The Town’s representative on the Board (Riddell) argued against the high salary award. He said, ” The chair has ignored other statutory criteria, especially the criterion of the economic situation in Ontario and in the municipality”. Riddell goes on to say, “I respectfully contend the Chair should have awarded wage increases that are more reflective of the settlements and arbitration awards in the broader public sector in Ontario. There are no compelling reasons why the Police and Fire Sector settlements and arbitration awards should be immune from the economic realities affecting all public sector bargaining in Ontario”, end quote. There you go; one out of three get it, but not enough to make a difference. At the end of the day, we are left footing the bill.
Keep in mind through all of this that Midland Fire ranks amongst the highest in spending per household in over 20 communities surveyed in Simcoe County, Toronto, York and Peel regions.
Don’t forget, this recent four-year award expired December 31/2012. Given this reality, the Fire Union will likely give notice to bargain in the weeks ahead, and likely in a year or two, we’ll find ourselves back in front of an arbitration panel who reside somewhere in Lala land.
Midland community suggests:
1) The Town of Midland must make the ability to pay argument right from the outset.
2) Require the removal of the no lay-off clause. We have no idea what the World, and especially Midland, will look like financially and economically in three to four years time.
3) Negotiate away the minimum required number of suppression staff – currently 10. We’ll need to change the ratio of full-time to volunteer staff if we are to sustain any reasonable service model given our need to control costs.
4) Focus on building Volunteer capability so that they can seamlessly fill any gaps in performance duties as a result of point 3 above.
5) Reduction and consolidation of top-heavy positions.
In closing, we suggest Midland Council get ahead of the issue with both Police and Fire and map out a win-win strategy. No more 3.5%- 4% annual pay increases. It’s time to put a stake in the ground.
These two departments, Fire and Police, need to play on the bigger team. It’s unfair that Parks, Public works, Planning, Library, Museum, and other Departments have to suck it up each and every year. It’s even more unfair that the taxpayers of Midland subsidize bad decision making. It’s a new day. Let’s get Fire and Police back on Team Midland.
Roy Ellis and Stewart Strathearn on behalf of MidlandCommunity.ca