BLAKE WOLFE The Standard
SCUGOG: A recent arbitration award for Scugog's full-time firefighters, including a pay increase and recommendation for a four-day work schedule, has prompted a 'complete operational and organization review' of the township's fire department.
A report by Fire Chief Richard Miller on the award, announced last month after more than a year of waiting for the township, was recently presented to Scugog councillors. According to the report, the award, which covers the period between 2009 and 2012, provides for a salary increase every six months retroactive to January 1, 2009. Scugog's full-time firefighters announced that they had become affiliated with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and Ontario Professional Firefighters Association in October 2008, creating the Scugog Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 4679.
Following a wage freeze in 2009 due to the bargaining process, the township provided firefighters with an interim pay increase of eight per cent (retroactive to 2009 wages) in May 2011, equal to just over $32,000. The remainder of the retroactive wages to be paid out will have an additional impact of $100,000 on the township's bottom line in 2013, in addition to expenses such as benefits and pension payments. The report states that the total wage increase would amount to a 26.7 per cent jump for a first-class firefighter - from $63,500 in 2008 to $80,440 in 2012.
Chief Fire Prevention Officer Gord Gettins would also receive an additional three per cent of salary in the form of 'recognition pay,' based on years of service, with two more firefighters set to receive the recognition pay beginning in October.
In addition to pay, the award also directs the department to implement a four-day work schedule for full-time firefighters.
Both considerations will 'significantly affect the fire department budget, both the full-time payroll accounts and the volunteer response account line,' said Chief Miller in his report, adding that a 'complete operational and organizational review' will be undertaken by the department to determine efficiencies.
The chief and councillors were also critical of the length of time it took for an award to be determined by the arbitrator.
"We were supposed to have an award within six months – it took over a year for us," said Chief Miller. "It's a broken system and needs to be fixed.... (But) now we have to take that next step and look at what we do and how we do it. We need to look at what system serves us best and how to keep our residents safe."
Added Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew:
"I hold our full-time firefighters in the highest esteem, but AMO has been lobbying for years to look at the arbitration system and the municipal ability to pay," said the councillor. "I find it inexcusable that an arbitrator would take 13 months to come to a decision with no rationale. This will create a ripple effect for our system as well as in the other North Durham municipalities and beyond. It has great ramifications and this is causing great concerns."
Mayor Chuck Mercier added that he is critical of the arbitration process "inching" into the department's operational structure, as well as the lack of rationale provided for the award.
"This award will limit our ability to have full-time firefighters cover off for volunteers during the days – there are safety issues," said the mayor. "Situations like this cause us to take a step back and say 'can we be better?'"
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