The City of Weyburn is standing firm with its offer to the Weyburn Police Association, and has rejected a request to go to binding arbitration.
The Weyburn Board of Police Commissioners met late Friday afternoon to consider the issues around the outstanding contract negotiations with the police association.
The city has made contingency plans in case the city police go on strike, but the WPA has insisted that they are not going to go on strike, in spite of taking a vote in favour of a strike.
On the issue of wages, Mayor Debra Button, chair of the Police Commission, said “the Weyburn Police Association request for a 24-per-cent wage increase is excessive, and that the city is standing firm with its latest offer.”
The city had offered an increase of 11 per cent over three years.
Bernie Eiswirth, executive officer of the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers, pointed out in an earlier interview that Weyburn officers are nine per cent behind Estevan, a comparably-sized city, and said Estevan and Moose Jaw both set their salaries at 93 per cent of Regina’s police force.
As to the comments by Mayor Button that the WPA could in fact go on strike under the Essential Services legislation, Eiswirth said the WPA members determined they will not strike.
“The strike vote taken by the Weyburn Police Association members was only done to show solidarity of the membership, and collectively communicate to the Board of Police Commissioners how discouraged the membership is with the board’s lack of commitment in reaching a new binding agreement,” said Eiswirth, adding that as “public safety is of utmost importance to the Weyburn Police Association, strike action will not be taking place.”
The strike vote was taken after an attempt for conciliation failed to resolve the impasse between the two parties.
Const. Shane St. John, head of the WPA for the past six years, pointed out the Essential Services legislation hasn’t been considered at all because they have a clause in their contract which states they cannot strike. He also reiterated what Eiswirth stated in saying the strike vote was a show of solidarity, and a way of sending a message to the city over their frustration with the impasse they are in.
St. John also noted the 24-per-cent increase cited by the city was a guess they made over a four-year period to bring them near parity with Estevan, and was closer to 18 per cent over a three-year period.
The bottom line for the police members, he said, is they want to know why they are considered so far behind Estevan. He pointed out one member has to live in Bengough because he can’t afford to live in Weyburn.
An issue that could be exacerbated by this wage situation, said St. John, is that of recruitment and retention, noting Weyburn could lose as many as seven officers to retirement in the next seven years.
Nonetheless, Mayor Button said the police commission drew up a list of which services and police members they deem as “essential”, and have drawn up a plan with the Weyburn detachment of the RCMP to have the city covered for major occurrences in the event of a strike.
Eiswirth said on Monday those numbers were supposed to have been provided in a list prior to the start of contract negotiations. “I talked about it at the negotiating table, and they dismissed it. It’s very frustrating.”
Since the board voted against arbitration, he added, “I’m assuming they’re going to invite us back to the bargaining table, so we’ll see what happens.”
This was good news to the ears of police commission member Coun. Rob Stephanson, who expressed the hope that there would be a return to the bargaining table, after the commission voted unanimously against going to arbitration.
“We have to have a reasonable chance to negotiate; you have to sit down with the commission to negotiate, and I hope it can still happen,” said Stephanson.
For himself, an issue related to wages is that many of the city’s highest paid employees are police officers, and when considering a contract offer to them, he has to keep the other city employees in mind also.
Stephanson also feels that recruitment and retention is not an issue for the Weyburn police, and commented, “Overall, we’re very competitive across the board in the city. We don’t have a huge flux of people leaving us … but it’s constantly out there; the oilpatch pays very well.
Every business in Weyburn has to compete with that.”
In a statement released on Monday, Mayor Button said, “In the bigger picture we are all on the same team, the police, the city, the taxpayers. We all believe in our city and we all want to treat each other fairly. I am confident that, through good faith and further discussion, a resolution can be found.”
On the police association’s right to strike, she expressed puzzlement over why the police would vote to strike, but then stated they won’t go on strike.
“I think it would be careless of us as the police commission, and negligent also, if we didn’t move forward with a contingency plan in the case of a strike,” she said.
She noted that in Moose Jaw, out of their 77 members, 13 were deemed as essential, and said Weyburn’s numbers would be somewhat different.
In the city’s talks with the RCMP, the mayor noted the police indicated they will not respond to “minor” issues.
“They have a contingency plan that they have put in place as well in the event of a strike,” said the mayor.
The WPA and the Weyburn Board of Police Commissioners have been bargaining since June 20, and the police members have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2011.