Those who know me know how I feel about emergency services workers. I'm not one of those who jumped on the bandwagon after September 11, 2001. I've been singing the praises of police, fire and ambulance workers since I first became a lifeguard when I was a teenager. They backstopped me and my team more times than I wish to remember.
It's easy for the rest of us to forget the personal sacrifices these people make so that we can lead safer lives. But when we need them, we know exactly how to reach them. They're heroes. Period.
So it was with a bit of fear that I wrote this. London's firefighters have been negotiating for a new contract over the last little bit. And the issue of retention pay stuck in my craw as a bit of a grab for cash. I tried to balance it by making it clear that my budgetary concerns had no connection to my fundamental respect of their goodness to and for society.
I hope they understand that when they read it. (And for the record, I didn't write the headline. Editors have final say on that component.)
Firefighters getting greedyYour turn: Am I being too harsh on London's firefighters? What's a city to do when it's trying to save money and keep its unions happy?
Published Saturday, February 18, 2006
The London Free Press
I don’t quite understand the logic behind London firefighters’ demands for retention pay.
They want the city to give them a bonus each year to keep them from leaving London to work elsewhere. The police officers’ union negotiated a similar deal last year, and now the firefighters want the same treatment.
I’m having difficulty with this since we don’t exactly have a huge shortage of firefighters. London has plenty of folks willing to join the ranks. We hardly need to pad their paychecks to keep them from jumping ship.
I have limitless respect and admiration for the firefighters in this and every city. They put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. They deserve proper compensation.
But asking for retention pay simply because their colleagues in the police force got it smacks of sibling rivalry.
Out in the real world, salary is driven by simple supply and demand. Employers crack open the vault when they need to attract new talent. They close the purse strings when applicants are abundant.
Why should firefighters be treated any differently?
Update - Feb. 22: The Free Press published this letter to the editor in response to this piece:
All firefighters want is parity with police
In a round-about way, Carmi Levy got it right in his Ink Blog, Firefighters getting greedy (Feb. 18) when he asked, "Why should firefighters be treated any differently?"
This is the question we have been asking ourselves over the last 26 months that we have been without a negotiated collective agreement.
Several years ago, and in subsequent freely negotiated agreements, city council has recognized wage parity between London firefighters and London police. Now, the mayor and the rest of council seem to have cast this by the wayside. Our question to council is, "What has changed?"
The duties and the dangers of firefighting have increased, as evidenced by the ever-expanding list of work-related cancer deaths.
We have never used the retention pay argument in any submission at the bargaining table, even though a comparable percentage of firefighters has left London for other firefighting opportunities. This is simply about maintaining historical wage parity with London police.
Striving for wage and benefit improvements has nothing to do with sibling rivalry. We highly respect our brothers and sisters in the other emergency services and applaud their advancements through the negotiating and arbitration process.
London Professional Fire Fighters Association