To get good insightful answers, how the question is framed matters. I missed an opportunity on Thursday
Niagara Police officers have won a 3.05% increase at labour arbitration, effectively setting the bar for negotiations for a new police contract in Hamilton.
With Hamilton politicians saying the City can’t afford pay increases for the police force, and calling on the Police Board to ‘hold the line’, the latest arbitration ruling shows that labour arbitrators are prepared to look at statistics to reward pay increases above the Consumer Price Index.#### “Affordability” argument out the window
The contract between the Hamilton Police Service and its Police Association ended December 31, 2012. Police are an essential service, if a new contract is not reached, it goes to arbitration. This often results in the Association getting its sought pay increase.
That’s exactly what happened in Niagara Region this week when Arbitrator William A. Marcotte ruled in the Association’s favour. The Police Services Board for Niagara Region offered a 1.05% increase the Association sought 3.05% and that’s exactly what Marcotte gave them.
The PSB for Niagara unsuccessfully argued taxpayers could not afford a higher than 1.05% increase, which was rejected.
Hamilton taxpayers doing better than Niagara
Marcotte – who hears many police contract arbitration cases – rejected the affordability argument and – of note for Hamiltonians – citing figures that show Hamilton able to afford a larger increase than Niagara
“Bearing in mind that ‘Public Sector employees should fare neither better nor worse than the community which it serves'”, Marcotte wrote in his ruling, “I award the Association proposal for a salary increase of 3.05% effective January 1, 2012.”
“In regard to taxpayer income, from 2008 to 2012, the Niagara average household income rose from $66,101 to $76,476 (15.7% increase) and average discretionary income as a percentage of total income rose by 3.3%, a greater increase than the comparators save for Hamilton at 3.9%”, Marcotte wrote.
Benefits tweaked, mostly kept same
****Marcotte granted some small changes to benefits. For the most part, he maintained them at current levels.
Marcotte granted the Association increases to afternoon and night shift premiums. Niagara rates were below Hamilton’s and remain so.
The Association asked for improvements to vacation for long-serving officers from 280 hours/year at 30 years to 25 years. The Board opposed and Marcotte granted 28 years.
The Association sought increased pay for Court attendance during off-duty days. This was rejected.
Health benefits were slightly increased by the arbitrator. Of note for Hamilton negotiations, many of the increases were to bring Niagara in line with comparators police services.
Hamilton is now below Niagara in only one of the cited categories – health spending accounts in Niagara are increasing from $2,500 to $3,000. In Hamilton, the present amount for each police employee is $2,000 annually.
The reaction in Niagara
Niagara’s Police Services Board Chair Henry D’Angela told *The St. Catharines Standard *the increase is “unreasonable”.
St. Catharines Councillor Bruce Timms told *The Standard *the increase could result in layoffs of officers to cover the award.
Police Association President Cliff Priest said to *The Standard *the deal is “fair and reasonable”.
What’s next for Hamilton?
This arbitration ruling has strengthened the hand of the Police Association at the table. How the Police Board responds remains to be seen.
Hamilton’s police budget debate was bruising this year as City Council voted for a ‘status-quo’ budget with no new hires and the Police Services Board voted to accept a ‘status-quo’ 3.52% budget increase from City Council while making hires.
The Board decided to hire new officers at the end of the fiscal year, creating a budget pressure that will transfer into the 2014 budget deliberations. It’s difficult to fathom any City Councillors planning to seek reelection voting to lay off officers.
Police staffing is by far the largest budget pressure for the police budget, policing is human labour intensive. 87.6% of the 2013 budget goes to salaries and benefits, with an unknown portion of that being a contingency for salary increases the new contract.
With new officers, and the likelihood of a 3% pay increase, next year’s budget debate could make this year’s look like a calm walk in the park.
Read the full ruling
The full arbitration ruling is available online here:
Regional Municipality of Niagara Police Services Board v Niagara Region Police Association, 2013 CanLII 29061 (ON LA)