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Judge denies review of firefighter's arbitration decision

May 04, 2016 - 1:01 PM

PENTICTON - City of Penticton firefighters will not be denied a recently arbitrated contract decision with the city regarding past wage increases.

Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce delivered her decision earlier this week on an application by the City of Penticton to review the arbitration decision, which would see Penticton firefighters wage increases paid at rates similar to other municipal firefighters in B.C.

The city had negotiated two previous wage settlements with Penticton firefighters through the Penticton Fire Fighters’ Association, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1399,  in 2005 and 2007, but when collective bargaining began between the two parties in 2010, the city took the position that it could no longer afford parity due to local economic conditions.

The firefighters union was looking for a 15.5 per cent increase from 2010 to 2015, while the city pitched a 6.5 per cent increase over the same period, noting similar settlements had been negotiated for other city employees.

Arbitrator David McPhillips' decision was based largely on the fact that a provincial pattern had been set for a provincial wage standard for firefighters across the province. The arbitrator acknowledged Penticton’s local economic conditions but also noted the city’s economic performance had improved in the years to be covered by the negotiations.

Because firefighters faced more dangerous working conditions and a higher incidence of occupational disease, a comparison with wage settlements by other city departments was not applicable, McPhillips added.

In rendering her decision, Justice Madam Bruce noted, “It is apparent from the award that Arbitrator McPhillips did not consider that the City of Penticton’s financial circumstances, including lower settlements reached with the other unionized employees due to the troubled economic situation, warranted wage rates for the firefighters that were less than what 98 per cent of the firefighters in the province were earning.” 

Justice Bruce noted the courts would not interfere in the decision unless the arbitrator had erred in law or ignored facts before him, upholding the arbitrator’s decision in favour of the firefighters association.

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