Firefighters strike deal with city

After three years of negotiations, Whitehorse firefighters have reached a collective agreement with the city. The new four-year contract gives the firefighters a 4.5 per cent bump in their salary, and because it's retroactive to Jan.

After three years of negotiations, Whitehorse firefighters have reached a collective agreement with the city.

The new four-year contract gives the firefighters a 4.5 per cent bump in their salary, and because it’s retroactive to Jan. 1, 2010, union members will be getting back pay as well.

But that also means the contract will expire next year.

Both sides, however, are optimistic about the prospects for the next round of negotiations.

It only took two weeks to hammer out this deal, said Stan Westby, the Whitehorse city manager.

It was his intervention, along with the work of Whitehorse Fire Chief Clive Sparks, that got things moving again, said union president Barry Blisner.

The big issue was wage parity. While the city was looking to compare firefighters to other city employees, the union wanted to compare its workers to firefighters in other jurisdictions.

“All along our goal was to maintain or gain parity with our B.C. and Alberta counterparts,” said Blisner. “This deal doesn’t bring us totally in line with them, but brings us a lot closer.”

Having just gone through a similar negotiation with firefighters in his last job as the city manager of Powell River, B.C., Westby was more sympathetic to the position of the union.

“It’s a different set of circumstances for them,” he said. “You’re bound by legislation, they are an essential service and there are issues with regards to parity that you just have to face up to.”

Though the city had to give up a little in terms of wages, it gained a much better working relationship with its firefighters, said Westby.

In his last job, Westby was able to negotiate an unprecedented five-year deal with Powell River’s firefighters.

“Maybe I’m being overly optimistic that we can do something like that here, but it doesn’t hurt to try.” (Josh Kerr)