02/12/2013

Remarks at AMO Interest Arbitration media briefing, February 14, 2013.
(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you Mayor McCallion and President Powers. 

I am very pleased to be here today to speak to this critical issue on behalf of the Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario (MARCO).

I echo Mayor McCallion’s sentiment that we have been working toward this for quite some time in a very coordinated fashion amongst many municipal groups. We believe this approach today strikes a good balance.

As Chair of a region that has had to live with arbitrated decisions and their consequences (on more than one occasion I might add), I can tell you that there is a real need for these critical improvements. 

AMO is focusing on 3 case studies of arbitrated emergency services settlements with similar outcomes in Windsor, St. Thomas and Niagara Region. 

A 2010 decision involving Niagara’s police association is a good example that highlights the need for arbitrators to account for the fiscal health of the community based on clear, measurable criteria. 

The Niagara region was, at the time of the decision (and arguably still) feeling the full brunt of the global economic downturn, even more so than elsewhere in the province, sharing the highest unemployment rate in Ontario (along with Windsor).   

At the time, the average household income in the region was 16% lower than the provincial average. As a result, Niagara residents were spending 10% more of their income on property taxes than many other communities in the province.  

Niagara Regional council was keenly aware of the pressure on our households. We were committed to keeping property taxes to lower than income growth, which was only 0.4%. 

In arbitration, we presented data about the very challenging state of our fiscal health. We felt the argument and the numbers spoke for themselves - that it was pretty compelling. 

Despite this, the arbitrator awarded the police service a 10% wage increase over three years, and somewhat more importantly, in addition to this, substantial increases in benefits which added to the total compensation package. 

It’s important to remember that arbitrators are spending taxpayers’ dollars. They must be held accountable to consider local economic conditions and the capacity of a community’s fiscal health as a priority. 

We hold our emergency services personnel in highest esteem. That’s certainly not what’s at issue here. We value their work, and they are paid according to their professional training, skills and responsibility. 

As Councillor Powers noted, requesting greater transparency in decisions regarding compensation does not diminish this respect.  Providing pay increases that reflect the community’s fiscal health is reasonable. What we’re saying is Arbitrators need to clearly take these factors into account. As Mayor McCallion stated, “one size doesn’t fit all”. 

Creating a streamlined process for more timely decisions is better for both employers and our unionized employees. No one benefits by waiting in limbo for years to arrive at an arbitrated decision. 

Along with my colleagues on the Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario (MARCO), I look forward to working with AMO, other partners and provincial leaders from all political parties, to make sure that together, we make meaningful changes to the arbitration system. 

Thank you.