Winnipeg’s mayor says there’s an “opportunity to fix things” between the city and the president of Winnipeg’s firefighter’s union after he may have found a loophole in how the union boss’ salary is paid.
Brian Bowman made the statement shortly after he presented a motion to the Executive Policy Committee asking the public service to seek 100% reimbursement from The United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg of Forrest’s salary and benefits, 60% of which taxpayers are currently on the hook for.
“I don’t like this practice. I’d like to end it as soon as possible,” Bowman said, noting that he communicated that directly with Forrest prior to Wednesday’s motion. “I’m hopeful that we can start fresh and get a better deal.”
In January, Bowman said it is “common sense” that the city shouldn’t be footing the bill. Forrest was paid $116,000 in 2016, with taxpayers on the hook for just under $70,000.
Bowman said it is important to give council a chance to give direction to the public service on how to proceed with implementing an updated provision. EPC endorsed the motion unanimously Wednesday.
In 2014, the city signed an accord with UFFW where it agreed to pay 60% of Forrest’s salary. Prior to that, the city had been paying his salary in full. All other salaries from various union presidents that represent city employees are reimbursed to the city.
Bowman told reporters he still plans on signing the collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified by council last April, but said after a time of scrutinizing the deal since earlier this spring, wants the change made.
Bowman said the agreement made in April of last year included a letter of understanding both the city and Forrest signed off on that said: “The parties agree that they will come to an agreement regarding union president leave and reimbursement.”
Bowman said this allows for the city to pursue a better deal for taxpayers.
Bowman stressed that he does not want to amend the current CBA nor revisit it.
“It’s a good collective agreement… both parties bargained in good faith,” Bowman said.
A new round of collective bargaining is due in 2021.
Forrest fired back on Wednesday, saying the 2014 agreement is already clear and ironclad regarding his salary.
“It is very clear that it remains in full effect and force until I retire as United Firefighters of Winnipeg president,” Forrest said in a written statement to the media. “We are also governed under the Manitoba Fire Departments Arbitration act and there are specific rules in how contractual clauses and agreements can be changed.
“The proposals have to be put in writing before Oct. 1 of the contract expiry year which is Dec. 28, 2020. Then negotiations take place and if an agreement can not be reached then an arbitration panel is struck to hear arguments on any disagreement of wages benefits or Contractual agreements.”
Bowman said he’s not bargaining in bad faith now, noting that council was not made aware of every part of the collective agreement, including Forrest’s salary.
“They are now,” Bowman said. “I think council should have a say in that.”
In January, Forrest insisted he’s been unfairly put under the microscope for a deal city officials at one time approved.
“If the current administration believes that the deal they negotiated was wrong, that wasn’t the case back in 2014,” he said at the time.