Charlottetown firefighters achieve major advancements in landmark arbitration award

March 1, 2024

Charlottetown’s Local 5219 firefighters celebrate arbitration gains

In a significant development for the firefighting community of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Local 5219 members are marking a major milestone following a landmark arbitration award.

The decision, announced on February 18, heralds substantial improvements in salaries and introduces a shift from the traditional eight-hour shifts to a 24-hour shift schedule, aligning with the standards prevalent across Atlantic Canada’s fire departments.

This arbitration award establishes the local’s inaugural contract as an affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), spanning from 2019 to 2024.

Before this contract, the 17 members of Charlottetown’s fire department were part of a larger, national public sector union, primarily grouped with the city’s other municipal employees for bargaining purposes.

A closer look at the arbitration award’s outcomes

James Pickard, President of Local 5219, expressed the members’ satisfaction with the arbitration’s results, emphasizing the enthusiasm for the future.

The arbitration process took into account comparisons with other IAFF locals in Atlantic Canada, resulting in a wage increase of 3.5% annually throughout the six-year contract.

Additionally, adjustments based on the cost of living, less one percent of the province’s Consumer Price Index figures, led to further salary increases for 2021 and 2022.

“On salary, the arbitration brought us to within two percent of the average within Atlantic Canada, which is great for us,” Pickard highlighted.

Regarding the shift schedule, the transition to a 24-hour shift was strongly advocated for by the firefighters, despite opposition from the employer who suggested a 12-hour shift instead.

The arbitration panel rejected the employer’s proposal, citing the 24-hour shift’s prevalence among IAFF locals across the country and dismissing concerns over its impact on firefighters’ and public health and safety.

Implementation and impact of the new shift schedule

The decision mandates the implementation of the 24-hour shift by July 31, necessitating renovations at Station 1 to reintroduce sleeping quarters removed a decade ago.

“The 24-shift has become the new norm. It’s the way to go, and our members are pretty excited about it,” said Pickard, reflecting on the positive changes ahead.

Additionally, the award formalizes the concept of “seasonal firefighters” by introducing the title of Relief Fire Fighters, with compensation set at 60% and 65% of a full-time firefighter’s salary, depending on hours worked.

This reclassification not only acknowledges their role in the department but also affords them permanent employee benefits, including sick leave and overtime priority.

While the arbitration did not specifically address staffing levels, it recognized the need for future consideration, especially as the city grows and volunteer response may decline.

The acknowledgement of the safety and effectiveness of four-person crews underscores the ongoing challenges in ensuring adequate firefighter presence.

FSJA Comment

The arbitration award for Charlottetown’s Local 5219 represents a significant step forward for the firefighting community in Prince Edward Island.

The adjustments in salary and the shift to a 24-hour schedule not only align Charlottetown’s firefighters with their colleagues across Atlantic Canada but also reflect a growing recognition of the demands and dynamics of modern firefighting.

This decision highlights the critical role of negotiation and arbitration in addressing the unique needs of first responders, ensuring they are adequately compensated and can maintain a work-life balance conducive to their demanding profession.

As the local and the employer work towards implementing these changes, the focus on future bargaining sessions will likely center on addressing staffing challenges and enhancing firefighter health and safety, further underscoring the importance of continuous dialogue and cooperation between fire departments and their personnel.

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