City misses deadline for contract negotiations with Winnipeg firefighters

The City of Winnipeg has missed a statutory deadline for filing its proposals for a new contract with Winnipeg firefighters — which could potentially affect how it negotiates a new deal.

A letter from Alex Forrest, the president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) Local 867, sent to John Dawson, the senior manager for labour relations at the City of Winnipeg, says when the two sides get together later this month, the city’s offer won’t be on the table.

“We will not discuss the proposals you sent on Oct. 14, nor will we be providing you with any counterproposals to them. They are not properly the subject of current collective bargaining,” wrote Forrest.

The city failed to meet a deadline — set out by the collective agreement — by two weeks. Both sides provide their proposals for wages, benefits and other issues, and then respond a month later with counterproposals.

Garth Smorang, the union’s lawyer, says that failure means the only side with a position on the table for the negotiations is the UFFW. 

“They’re not going to consider the City’s proposals. Bargaining will continue, but only on the union’s proposals. And if an agreement can be reached before Dec. 31, great. And if it can’t, then they [the UFFW] have indicated an intention to ask the minister to appoint an arbitration board.”

Alex Forrest of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg wrote in a letter to the city, ‘there is simply a failure by the City to meet its deadlines … there are consequences to that disaster of its own making.’ (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Smorang says the effect of the city not filing its proposals will carry on through arbitration if a deal can’t be worked out before then.

“The position that the union will take at the arbitration board is they can’t consider the city’s proposals either. Because the city has not met its statutory deadline to get them in,” Smorang told CBC News.

City refused late proposals from union in 2010

It would appear the city used similar tactics in negotiations with paramedics in 2010, just after they joined the Manitoba Government and General Emplyees Union (MGEU).

The union was late in filing its proposals and the city responded by going to Manitoba’s Labour Board. At the end of the process, the paramedics were forced to accept a wage increase of zero for a year.

Forrest, in his letter to the city, wrote “there is simply a failure by the City to meet its deadlines, both pursuant to the Collective Agreement and pursuant to the Act … there are consequences to that disaster of its own making.”

Smorang says there is a practical reason for both sides to forward their proposals by a hard deadline — both reveal what they are after at the same time, so neither has advantage in negotiations.

“There’s some logic to this concurrent exchange of proposals, so that one doesn’t get to see the other’s poker hand, if you will, before they put forward theirs,” Smorang said.

Both the chair of the protection and community services committee, Sherri Rollins, and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane declined to comment on the letter sent by Forrest.

A spokesperson for the City says it is hopeful that a negotiated collective agreement will be reached with the UFFW.

“The City has received notice to bargain from the UFFW. Given that proposals have been exchanged between the parties and that there is a bargaining protocol in place, the City will not comment further,” wrote the spokesperson in an email.

Forrest declined to comment, only saying the letter he wrote to the city “speaks for itself.”