Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From the editor: Dangling a carrot that yields a bumper crop

Laura King   

Features Hot Topics Opinion

More and more, I hear stories about labour and management working together to achieve positive outcomes – programs such as the IAFF Wellness Fitness Initiative, for example – and buy-in from firefighters to help management and the corporation, reach benchmarks.

At Surrey Fire Service, a forward-looking British Columbia department with a driven and data-savvy chief, a new program that helps firefighters save for post-retirement health care, is innovative and practical. (See story page 10.)

No one joins a fire department at 19 or 25 thinking about retirement.

But in Ontario, union locals have been pressing for post-retirement benefits to be added to their collective agreements. I first heard about this at a labour-relations conference a few years ago, at which lawyers admonished fire chiefs and human resources folks for freely agreeing to add such clauses to deals with the locals.

It was, the lawyers said, obscene that municipalities gave away this perk without considering, or even understanding, the impact: the more municipalities that agree to such benefits, the more likely arbitrators are to award them, beginning a vicious cycle of additional spending for the corporations.


I remember thinking at the time: Wow, if the unions are smart enough to go after a post-retirement health-care spending fund, and municipalities agree, then good on the unions. Who wouldn’t want a post-retirement health-care spending fund?

It was mentioned clearly and repeatedly at the labour-relations conference, that the unions are much better equipped at the negotiating table than the municipalities.

There’s nothing wrong with supporting long-time employees post-retirement, particularly those whose jobs are physically demanding and can result in injuries and ailments that often worsen later in life.

But in Surrey, labour and management have found a way to ensure that everyone benefits. As Chief Len Garis writes, “the department has experienced operational and safety improvements after introducing pay incentives for its 396 unionized staff based on department-wide performance.”

The key to the program, Garis says, is a team approach.

“By measuring results of the entire team rather than individuals,” Garis says, “the approach has enabled SFS to introduce performance evaluations in a union environment, while providing data that the department can use to make evidence-based decisions.”

The department uses 11 key performance indicators and provides a financial incentive to its unionized members when the entire department achieves annual targets.

The bonus is an annual lump-sum payment equal to 0.5 per cent of base pay. The funds are deposited into a tax-free savings account that members can redeem when they retire.

Smart program, and a model for others to prevent municipalities from agreeing to costly post-retirement packages that may result in department cuts.

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