Rising firefighter salaries raising concerns
Okotoks: Collective agreement negotiations underway with firefighters union
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 06:00 am
Recent agreements between Alberta communities and a union representing firefighters which have included significant salary hikes in firefighter’s pay have caught the eye of Okotoks officials.
Okotoks is one of a number of communities in the province in discussions with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).
In some cases, such as in Leduc and Airdrie, new collective agreements have meant significant pay hikes meaning experienced firefighters in these communities will be earning tens of thousands more than their counterparts in Okotoks.
Nancy Weigel, Okotoks human resources and communications manager, said only three meetings have been held between the Town and the union as they try to reach an agreement on their first contract, but wages have not been discussed.
While she wouldn’t comment on contract negotiations, she said the Town is concerned about the financial implications of a collective agreement on Okotoks’ finances.
“There definitely is a concern about the cost,” she said.
Okotoks firefighters voted to unionize in fall 2010 creating the IAFF local #4829 and Weigel said contract negotiations didn’t start until a year later.
A number of Alberta communities are negotiating collective agreements with their fire departments and some have seen big increases in salaries.
Firefighters in Leduc reached an agreement with the City late last year, which was ratified by city council in November. As of July 2013, a probationary firefighter in Leduc will earn $31.61 per hour, or $69,227 per year, and a first-class firefighter with at least three years of experience will earn $42.15 per hour, or $92,303 per year.
In comparison, in 2010, the salary in Leduc for a first year probationary firefighter was $27.53 per hour and first class firefighters were paid $36.71 per hour.
Under the Airdrie collective agreement signed in 2012, probationary firefighters in their first year on the job are paid $60,000 and pay rises to $80,400 by
the fourth year retroactive to 2010 and the City is still negotiating rates for 2011 and 2012. In 2009, salaries for an EMT/firefighter ranged from $54,420 to 68,032 and paramedic/firefighters ranged from $59,405 to $74,256.
Airdrie cited higher costs for emergency services in November as a factor in a $361,266 third-quarter shortfall.
Contract negotiations in both the Town of Cochrane and Rocky View County have gone to arbitration after no agreements could be reached.
According to the Cochrane Eagle, a draft of Cochrane’s 2012 budget released in the fall indicated the union’s demands would result in a 5.37 per cent property tax increase.
There are 14 full-time firefighters in the Okotoks local of the IAFF. Currently, annual salaries for full-time firefighters in Okotoks range from $63,047 to $69,478 plus benefits. This hasn’t changed since the union was formed in 2010 and will remain the same until a collective agreement is signed.
Weigel said the Town is aware of the agreements in Airdrie and Leduc and they are watching what is happening in other communities.
She said the Town hasn’t calculated the potential financial impact of a collective agreement in Okotoks should there be significant increases in firefighters’ salaries.
The MD of Foothills is also keeping an eye on Okotoks’ contract negotiations because the Town’s fire department provides coverage to parts of the foothills at a cost to the MD.
MD manager Harry Riva Cambrin said any increase in Okotoks fire costs could impact the MD.
“So we are indirectly affected by whatever happens with that agreement,” he said.
An official with the IAFF said the Town has been getting a deal on firefighter salaries for many years now.
“It’s fair to say that the range of firefighter salaries across the country, right from Atlantic Canada to the Pacific Ocean and into the Northwest Territories and the Yukon is significantly higher than what Okotoks is,” said Lorne West, Western Canadian vice-president of the IAFF.
To date, he said negotiations with Okotoks have been amicable. West also said salaries haven’t been discussed yet, so it’s too early to say what the outcome could be.
Ultimately, he said the reality for residents is that they can either pay more in taxes for a higher level of municipal fire services, or pay higher rates for fire insurance.