02/13/2013

Remarks at AMO Interest Arbitration media briefing, February 14, 2013.

Good morning. I am Russ Powers, President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. 

I am pleased to be joined today by Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, who is also Chair of the Large Urban’s Mayor Caucus, and the Chair of the Region of Niagara, Gary Burroughs, who today is representing the Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario. 

We have come together to speak to an issue that is a shared priority of municipal governments  across the Province – large and small.

The interest arbitration system is the only means for resolving collective bargaining disputes with essential workers, like firefighters and police, who cannot strike. 

Municipalities have long voiced our desire to improve the system, which is inefficient, and lacking in sufficient accountability and transparency. 

The need for improvement has been widely acknowledged by both the Government and opposition. There were several legislative proposals tabled last year to make changes to the interest arbitration system.  

But, it is essential that any change be the right change – we can’t get it wrong. 

To that end, today we are issuing a check list that identifies the measures needed to make the system more efficient, accountable and transparent.  

Taxpayers should see how decisions are arrived at, and what it means for their community.

As the legislature prepares to reconvene, we call on all three parties to work with us  - together we can create legislation that fits the bill.  

The check list, found in your media kits represents the shared desires of Ontario municipal governments across Ontario.  

Municipal governments no longer want a system that merely replicates pay raises from community to community and sector to sector, but one that clearly shows how it has considered the specific needs and circumstances including the impact on the community.

The checklist was developed by AMO and informed by the hard work and analysis of the Emergency Services Steering Committee, a body of municipal labour and legal experts. 

The committee has been researching emergency services issues since 2005 and it represents a great depth of expertise and experience. 

We’ve also consulted broadly with Ontario Association of Police Services Boards, whose president Barb Bartlett is here with us today, and with the Ontario Hospital Association, and there is consensus on our approach. 

Let me give you an overview of the check list – what we are asking the legislature to do. 

It deals first with efficiency and timeliness. 

It can sometimes takes years for a decision. We have identified ways to streamline the process, such as moving to a single arbitrator model, rather than the more time-consuming approach of naming a 3 member panel, which is the current case for fire services. 

We are also calling for a 12-month deadline for an arbitrator’s decision. We believe this is reasonable and doable. 

Currently, the decisions from the interest arbitration system put a heavy emphasis on awards in other communities. 
 
Arbitrators have given little weight to the local settlements that have been reached with other unionized employees in the same community. Arbitrators have  favoured replicating awards over looking at and weighing the economic and fiscal condition of the community. 

Today, we are asking as well for greater transparency by creating measurable criteria for evaluating the fiscal health of a community. And then we want arbitrators to provide, clear, written explanation of how those criteria were considered in coming to a decision.  We believe that this should be public – that this is an appropriate accountability standard.  

Interest arbitrators also need to be held accountable for how they considered the impact of the total compensation package of a decision. Decisions that bring impacts should demonstrate that they looked at how it might affect the community in terms of taxes and level of services. 

In short, interest arbitrators need to explain their decisions and show the math, so the taxpayer understands how decisions were made.  This is not difficult, nor should it be considered extraordinary.  

It is important to note that these criteria do not guarantee a particular award outcome. 

And let me be clear, the value we place on emergency services is not diminished by the need for an efficient, accountable and transparent system. 

In fact, the professional training and responsibilities of emergency services personnel are recognized within a municipal government’s overall pay structure. 

Instead, these changes put local interests and needs first so that the community knows how an interest arbitration decision regarding pay raises was made. 

I’d like to now pass it over to Mayor Hazel McCallion, Chair of the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario.