London Ontario, London Free Press – London firefighters and city hall resume their long-delayed arbitration hearing Tuesday.
Arbitration hearings resume Tuesday between city hall and London firefighters amid hopes the protracted process can reach a conclusion by this time next year.
City officials have lifted a legal objection that derailed the arbitration process, hoping to kick-start efforts to reach a conclusion in the years-long contract squabble with the London Professional Fire Fighters’ Association (LPFFA).
The hearing is slated to resume today and Wednesday.
And while LPFFA leadership is hopeful, they know the hearings — into what’s already the longest contract impasse in Canadian history — won’t end until January 2018 at the earliest.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said LPFFA president Jason Timlick. “As long as there are no more delays, then I believe the days we have booked between now and the beginning of next year should be enough to complete the process.
“That’s always the hope, that the dates we have booked will be enough.”
London firefighters could be forgiven for having long ago grown frustrated, considering they’re still working under terms of a contract that expired in 2010.
Timlick says in addition to this week’s two days, the hearing is slated to continue for 15 more days between April and early next January. If completed, it will be up to an arbitrator to make a decision.
City hall is seeking some taxpayer-friendly changes to how London firefighters are paid, chiefly making other employee groups, such as outside workers, the salary comparator for fire, not police.
The city also wants to outsource fire dispatch. They’ve said that move alone would save taxpayers more than $1 million annually.
Timlick says the LPFFA has already spent $1.2 million for lawyers and expert witnesses. He questions why city hall hasn’t publicly declared how much they’ve spent throughout the same process.
What derailed talks in the summer was the arbitrator’s order that city hall hand over documents relating to the creation of a city report recommending London firefighters make less than police (ending a policy of pay parity between the two).
City hall’s top bureaucrat, Art Zuidema, called for a “judicial review” of the “appropriateness of the request.”
But in December, city officials lifted that request — for now — in the hopes the arbitration process could get re-started. Timlick expects discussions over those documents to dominate the early part of today’s hearing.
Scores of London firefighters appear annually on city hall’s so-called Sunshine List, which names municipal employees making $100,000 a year or more. That’s grown tiresome for taxpayers.
But it also irks firefighters, who say the city’s staffing model is what pushes so many of them into the six-figure-salary category.
Timlick notes a first-class firefighter makes $85,503. But in what’s ultimately a cost-saving move, the city understaffs the fire department, meaning many firefighters rack up piles of overtime.