07/01/2011

Affordable, Accountable and Transparent Arbitration Needed, an AMO Backgrounder for the Ontario Provincial Election 2011.
Emergency services workers- police and firefighters- are valued municipal employees who ensure the community health and safety in all Ontario municipalities.  Because these essential workers are not allowed to strike, the collective bargaining process relies on arbitration to resolve differences if a settlement can’t be reached.

However, the current arbitration process is not a level playing field for municipalities. These inequities cast a shadow over all collective bargaining with emergency services:

  • Many arbitrators do not take into account the economic circumstances of a local municipality and its ability to pay, despite legislation that requires them to do so.
  • Awards are often based on comparisons to provincial, not regional, emergency services. This is particularly difficult for small, rural and northern Ontario municipalities who do not have the tax base of large urban centres.
  • Recruitment and retention awards that were introduced within the Greater Toronto Area have been awarded throughout all of Ontario, driving up costs and defeating their purpose.
In 2010, the Ontario Government called on municipalities to restrain wage and benefit increases, without providing any tools to do so. Then they awarded the Ontario Provincial Police a 5% wage increase for 2011, followed by a two year freeze, and a top-up commitment in 2014 to ensure the OPP was the best paid police service in Ontario. This rich settlement has driven up costs and expectations among municipal emergency service employees.

As a result of arbitration awards, emergency services costs across Ontario are rising faster than other municipal services, the cost of living and the rate of inflation. For example, a 2011 arbitration award for Fort Frances firefighters gave a 16% increase over four-years, more benefits, and recognition (retention) pay. To make ends meet, Fort Frances cut two of its eight professional firefighters. The bottom line is that disproportionate increases stretch municipal budgets, drawing funding away from other vital programs and services.

AMO is urgently pressing for several simple improvements to the arbitration process:
  • Require arbitrators to actively consider a municipality’s ability to pay, including the local economy, impact on taxpayers and the impact on other services if the municipality cannot fund the arbitrators’ decision.
  • Ensure timely resolution of awards. Thunder Bay recently concluded an arbitration that took seven years.
  • Ensure arbitrators provide a rationale for the award.