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By Loreth Beswetherick Whistler’s 13 unionized firefighters were hoping to start negotiations with the municipality for a first collective agreement in September and have a contract in the bag by the year 2000 but, although the negotiation wheels are turning, it looks like they will be lucky to start serious talks by October. The B.C. Labour Relations board granted the municipality’s full-time firefighters certification with the International Association of Fire Fighters in May this year. The Whistler department was, until then, the only non-unionized fire department in the province. "I doubt we will have a contract in place before the end of the year," said Randy Johnstone, president if the Whistler IAFF local. "I am not holding my breath." Johnstone said municipal administrator Jim Godfrey’s resignation throws a different light on the process. "It would have been nice he if was going to stay around because it would lend some consistency." Johnstone said the RMOW has indicated it wants to shoot for a first meeting around the last week in October. The municipality’s director of human resources, Kathy Wallace, said no dates for bargaining talks have been set yet. Wallace, who has been through several sets of contract negotiations with different unions including CUPE and the Teamsters, has enlisted the help of Greater Vancouver Regional District negotiator Robert D’Angelo for the fire department talks. The GVRD provides the service of negotiators to their various member municipalities as well as to other local governments, especially smaller ones. Wallace said, however, the GVRD does put its member municipalities first. This is something that concerns Johnstone. He said most of the Lower Mainland fire department contracts expire at the end of the year and must be re-negotiated. "I think we are taking a back seat, in that sense, to the other municipalities. They are all gearing up to enter negotiations for the next round. I don’t think we are exactly on top of the list with regards the allocation of resources." Wallace said she is aiming for talks as early as she can. "We are trying to get everyone together to sit down for a meeting. Things are moving ahead." She said there is still hope a contract could be signed by the end of the year. A lot of the groundwork has already been laid with existing IAFF contracts with other municipalities. "You just never know with negotiations. You get surprised. Sometimes they are quick, sometimes they are not. There is a lot if history with the IAFF. This was the last non-union group so there’s certainly a lot of supporting documentation." Johnstone said the firefighters will be tabling a contract proposal drafted using six Lower Mainland municipal fire departments as reference — North Vancouver City, North Vancouver District, West Vancouver, Delta, Port Coquitlam and New Westminster. It is those same six municipalities the RMOW has historically used to set remuneration and benefits for its own staff. He said in terms of the B.C. Labour Relations Code, contract talks have to start within a month of certification being granted unless both parties agree to a different schedule. He said the municipality and the firefighters had agreed to postpone negotiations until September, after the summer holiday period. "We were all ready to go the first week of September," he said. "I think it will depend on how much of the meat and potatoes aspect we can mutually agree on and push aside. Then we can concentrate on some things that are going to take a little bit more work. If we can do that, it should expedite things quite a bit. But, until we actually sit down, we are spinning our wheels," said Johnstone. "The Labour Code may say you have to start talks but there is nothing to say how ambitious you have to be about it."

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