Unionized firefighters in Vancouver, Washington left money on the table as they decided to give up their pay raise in recognition of hard times
In a couple of days, new pay rates for unionized and management staff at Vancouver City Hall will kick into effect. All CUPE workers will get a 4% hike, while management will get 2% on January 1st followed by a 2% increase in July 2010. Both the police and fire service workers are also going to be receiving their pay raises as well. Civic politicians have already quietly announced they will be taking their 2.77% wage increase.
As many of you know, labour is about 70% of the overall cost of running the average city hall. Therefore, any increase in salaries ends up costing tax payers a bundle. By way of example, I was astounded that simply delaying a 2% pay increment for Vancouver's management staff by six months would save the City over $650,000. It should be noted that Vancouver's City Manager decided not to take the scheduled increase at all in 2010 (this according to Mayor's office staff, but never confirmed publicly by Ballem herself).
Despite the recession, there was one thing made abundantly clear by Vancouver's civic unions during the budget debate. There would be no delay in the scheduled pay raise and they would hear nothing of possible wage rollbacks. Yes times are tough, but a collective agreement is a collective agreement. Well, perhaps that doesn't always have to be the case.
We are coming up on a special one year anniversary that took place in Vancouver on December 30, 2008. Now we're not talking Vancouver, BC, rather, we're referring to an announcement made by Vancouver, Washington's unionized firefighters. They looked around them and realized the tax payers who pay their wages were stretched to the max while at the same time their local economy was in the tank (sound familiar?). That's when they voluntarily decided to give up their January 1st, 2009 pay increase. Their decision ended up saving the city over $700,000.
In a media release, they stated:
On Tuesday, December 30th, members of the Vancouver Firefighters Union approved by a 91% vote of its membership an unprecedented proposal: to voluntarily waive a previously agreed to 4% pay increase for 2009 in light of the tough economic times facing the city. The savings to the city amounts to over $700,000 in 2009.
Mark Johnston, President of the Vancouver Firefighters Union, was quoted as saying, "Our members overwhelmingly supported this proposal in order to ensure that citizens of the Vancouver Fire Department receive the fire and emergency medical services protection they deserve. Numerous members commented that they couldn't accept a 4% pay increase when their next door neighbors were being laid off and their coworkers across the city were facing significant cuts.
Wow. That's not something you see every day and it likely won't happen again soon, but you need to give full credit to the union and its membership for taking the hit. They could have done like their union brethren up North and stood firm. That decision resulted in hundreds of their brothers and sisters spending the holidays waiting to hear whether they'll have their hours cut back or still have a job in 2010.
As expected, Mayor Royce Pollard was ecstatic with the union's decision:
This extreme act of selflessness informs all of us of the incredible people we have working for our fire department. Let there be no doubt that this is a courageous stand. I want to extend my great respect and admiration to the Vancouver Firefighters Union for their dedication to this community.
As I've written here before, there are many pressures facing the budgets of both fire and police departments in our modern world. Due to more effective building codes which include the mandatory installation of sprinkler systems, fewer firefighters are needed to help battle blazes in our major cities. As for the police, stats indicate the overall rate of crime continues to plummet as the bulk of the bad guys are simply getting older.
In the case of fire services, a number of cities are currently cutting costs by implementing voluntary firefighters on call. This is a system that has proven extremely cost-efficient in many urban centres, but has been all but rejected in Vancouver. In terms of the police, many folks in the private sector are now resorting to funding private security guards to help "walk the beat" in their neighbourhoods.
Perhaps it was these pressures that factored into the decision making process for the Vancouver, Washington unionized firefighters. Regardless, as we near the one year anniversary of their announcement to refuse their pay increase, we should look to their decision and applaud them for being part of the solution.
- Post by Daniel