Municipal politicians and officials are continuing to be concerned about the size of arbitration awards given to firefighters.
The concern about arbitration rulings for firefighters was sparked by a ruling that will pay five Saint John firefighters an $80,000 salary by 2014.
Some Saint John city councillors say they are not giving the fire department any additional funding to pay for a 12.6 percent pay increase awarded by an arbitrator.
Saint John Mayor Mel Norton said the salary wage hikes come at a time when Saint John councillors are trimming budgets for other departments.
“This city doesn’t have additional dollars to allocate. We are at the very end, we are past the end of our rope,” Norton said.
The city’s mayor says the legal department is now studying whether the arbitrator’s ruling should, or could, be appealed.
Other communities are watching what is happening in Saint John very closely as they also struggle with financial issues.
Jacques Dubé, the city manager in Moncton, said arbitrators usually match wages for firefighters in his city to those in Saint John and Fredericton.
The city manager said Moncton firefighters would need to receive an 18 per cent wage increase to match the 12.6 per cent pay hike given to Saint John firefighters.
“Things like these arbitrated settlements come in and they can take a big slice out of, and diminish any efficiencies we're achieving in house,” he said.
Dubé said the mayors of New Brunswick’s three largest cities are lobbying the premier to end binding arbitration for firefighters.
The Town of Oromocto also wants the provincial government to allow a different way to settle contracts with these workers.
“The outcome binding arbitration creates higher costs for the municipality do cause the municipalities to consider things like Saint John is now being forced to do, which is a reduction in service,” said Dick Isabelle, the chief administrative officer in Oromocto.
Unions aren't interested in right to strike
Firefighters in Saint John have shied away from commenting about the arbitrator’s award.
Kevin Clifford, the fire chief in Saint John, said he was too busy to comment on the pay hike on Thursday as a major fire had erupted in the city.
As well, the union representing the city’s firefighters also declined to speak about the arbitrator’s decision on Thursday.
Even if the provincial government decided to change the way firefighters and municipalities negotiate their contracts, it would likely happen after Moncton firefighters sign their next contract.
John Courtney, the president of the Moncton Fire Fighters Association, said he doesn’t think there is a need change the system.
He said he doesn’t think emergency personnel should strike.
“We're not interested in the right to strike whatsoever,” Courtney said.
“It takes us right back to the public safety aspect of this. And death and injury and those are not pleasant things to deal with.”
Courtney said the city hasn’t complained after arbitration settlements in the past that favoured a city administration.
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