Resort Municipality of Whistler prepares for collective bargaining 

More than 300 employees in need of new contracts

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRADEN DUPUIS - Whistler's firefighters are just one of three municipal employee groups in need of a new contract as of Dec. 31., 2019.
  • Photo by Braden Dupuis
  • Whistler's firefighters are just one of three municipal employee groups in need of a new contract as of Dec. 31., 2019.

With contracts for both Whistler Fire Service employees and municipal staff (unionized and otherwise) expiring on Dec. 31, 2019, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is preparing for collective bargaining with both parties.

The RMOW has budgeted $72,000 in 2020 for the negotiations.

In total, there are 325 full-time equivalent employees in need of new deals: Twenty-three firefighters, 56 unionized municipal staff (represented by CUPE) and 246 "handbook staff."

The municipality has a plan set out in its handbook for labour wage agreements, said chief administrative officer Mike Furey.

"The main aspect of it is we look to the Lower Mainland," Furey said, adding that comparative communities include North Vancouver, West Vancouver, New Westminster and Coquitlam.

"So we wait and see what happens in terms of the wage settlements in those communities, and as they progress, usually a pattern develops in terms of not just across those communities but really across the Lower Mainland and across B.C., and that pattern is generally followed by most municipalities."

To that end, there hasn't been a lot of progress on labour negotiations in those communities at this stage, Furey said.

"I believe some communities are engaged in the Lower Mainland, but I'm not getting the sense they're at an advanced stage at this time," Furey said. "So we'll wait for that to unfold over the course of 2020."

The $72,000 will be used for a third-party negotiator.

Both the CUPE and handbook staff are coming off of four-year agreements that included 1.5-per-cent wage increases in 2016 and 2017 and two-per-cent increases in 2018 and 2019.

The last contract with the Whistler Professional Firefighters Association, signed in 2015, covered 2012 to 2019 and included annual wage increases of 2.5 per cent.

The delay in reaching an agreement meant the RMOW had to include retroactive pay in the new contract.

"If I recall correctly, we looked internally to our savings to address the retro component, and then going forward the annual increase was loaded into our forward looking budget," Furey said.

With payroll costs representing the single biggest impact on municipal expenses—and Whistler's firefighters a big chunk of that (21 firefighters made more than $75,000 in 2018, according to the 2018 Statement of Financial Information)—how does the RMOW manage those costs?

"That's something we're constantly looking at, is how we address the payroll ... we are basically a service delivery organization, and in service delivery, it requires a lot of staff to do that," Furey said.

"Particularly in terms of the firefighters, and their union, they are contracted and linked to the International Association of Firefighters provincially and nationally, so they bring that perspective to the table. But at the same time, I've always found them reasonable and [that they] have the community's best interest at heart when they're bringing ideas to the table."

The local firefighter union generally has three members sit down with RMOW reps to discuss what it would like to improve on in a new contract, with a goal of reaching a mutual agreement between both parties, said union rep Al MacConnachie, in an email.

"Obviously an agreed settlement is preferred over an arbitrated, binding decision from a third party. We expect to achieve a fair and reasonable agreement that is in keeping with the trend set by our regional counterparts," MacConnachie said, adding that the department uses Vancouver, New Westminster, Delta, North Vancouver and Richmond as comparables.

"Over the years, we have strived to have our wage increases equivalent to the cost of living adjustment. This has been a struggle for many B.C. employees, for what seems like to me a basic standard."

With the last contract spanning eight years, MacConnachie said he would hope for a similar term in the next contract.

"An aspect that we are hoping to improve upon with our new [contract agreement] is some type of funding to be implemented for PTSD," he said.

"This is a major concern for all first responders and right now our newest resiliency program has recently lost its funding. The impact to our members is considerable."

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