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Police deserve higher pay than firefighters, report says

Sept. 3, 2013, Toronto – A consultant’s analysis of the roles of firefighters and police officers for the City of London, Ont., says first-class police officers have more complex decision-making responsibilities than first-class firefighters and should be paid two pay grades higher.

September 3, 2013
By Laura King

Sept. 3, 2013, Toronto – A consultant’s analysis of the roles of firefighters and police officers for the City of London, Ont., says first-class police officers have more complex decision-making responsibilities than first-class firefighters and should be paid two pay grades higher.

The report, by Deloitte’s job-evaluation specialist Sandra Haydon, was completed in April and was presented last week at the city’s interest arbitration by lawyer John Saunders of Hicks Morley, who represents the city.

London’s 395 unionized firefighters have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2010, and are looking for a wage increase of 11.64 per cent over four years, the same as the city’s police officers received in their latest contract.

John Hassan, president of London’s firefighters union, said this morning via e-mail that the association plans to address the report fully during the arbitration process.

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“We have every confidence in the board's ability to see through the tactics being employed against my members,” Hassan said.

“There have been studies done in the past trying to achieve what the City of London and the fire administration are trying to do here, yet police and fire wages have had some form of parity in London since the 1950s, and were freely negotiated during the last round of bargaining.”

OPFFA president Mark MacKinnon noted in an interview Tuesday morning that arbitrator Kevin Burkett recently gave Toronto firefighters parity with its police officers.

“So I think the City of London has chosen this opportunity maybe because of the political climate against unions to take a shot at this,” MacKinnon said.

“The point to reiterate that across the province and across the country police/fire parity has been the case in the last 50 years, and we don’t think much has changed to provide a case otherwise.”

Deloitte’s Haydon used the firm’s own job-evaluation system to analyze and weigh eight factors, including knowledge, communication, problem solving and complexity, development and leadership of others, and the environmental working conditions of firefighters and police officers.

The report concludes that working conditions for firefighters are highly adverse during calls, but says police constables work in moderately challenging conditions all the time. Notably, the report does not consider the incidence of workplace illnesses such as cancer; numerous studies have shown that firefighters are at a higher risk than others of contracting several types of cancers. And, according to the union, average firefighters in Ontario work two hours more a week than police constables, or 104 extra hours a year.

The report says police officers need to know more and apply their knowledge in a broader context than firefighters, require stronger interpersonal and communication skills, deal with a wider range of situations and, therefore, must apply more wide-ranging solutions, and have a higher degree of independence related to decision making and accountability.

First-class police officers received a score of 941, 195 points higher than the total of 746 for first-class firefighters.

“Based on our understanding of the two roles . . . we are of the opinion that there would be a two-level differential between the two roles, with the [first]-class police constable in the higher band,” the report’s executive summary says.

In addition, the report says, the command structure in the fire service means a first-class firefighter is “almost always working in close physical proximity to a captain for advice, guidance, direction and decision making.”

Overall, police officers were ranked higher than or equal to firefighters in all categories, primarily because of the requirement that they make decisions based on individual situations, and the level of accountability and independence with which they are tasked.

For example, in problem solving and complexity, the report notes that first-class firefighters operate under the direction of a more experienced supervisor, and follow standard operating procedures.

“[First]-class firefighters must understand the nature of the problem/challenge encountered and, working under the direction of their captain, deploy the most appropriate course of action with a set of technical standards,” the report says.

“While processes deployed may differ somewhat, most are technical in nature with a focus on emergency response within a defined set of protocols or limits.”

First-class police officers, the report says, must make more difficult decisions in a broader range of situations.

“[First]-class police constables routinely encounter a wide range of challenges and problems that range in scope from relatively straightforward to complex (dependent on the nature of the call, the range of stakeholders involved, the degree of volatile/uncertainty, etc.).

“They must not only use a range of knowledge and skills in order to define the challenge/problem, but they must also determine the best course of action amongst a number of viable options.”

The report notes that firefighters operate in “a highly supervised command and control structure” while “the vast majority of the time the patrol officer is not under direct supervision and as such must exercise independent judgment and decision making on an on-going basis that not only resolves the issues but meets legal and policy requirements.”

The report acknowledges that as is the case in the fire service, a police supervisor is available by radio.

“However,” it says, “unlike the fire service, supervisors are not typically attending on the call to assist in real time/place. The nature of work is such that constables are autonomously patrolling and are rarely accompanied on calls by a supervisor.”

Overall, the report says, first-class firefighters are told what to do and how to do it while constables have more discretion and must make decisions that are in line with policies and complex legislation.

“Within this context there is a broad requirement to exercise discretion and judgment beyond the interpretation and application of rules, guidelines and policies,” the report says. “They can make decisions (e.g. to lay charges) for which they are fully accountable.”

The City of London notes on its interest arbitration website that it can not sustain the wage increases demanded by its emergency-service workers.

It says its firefighters “have received economic increases that have outpaced inflation and those received by other corporation employee groups.”

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario is pushing for changes to the interest arbitration system, which has historically granted firefighters parity with police.

The City of London has said it will focus on its ability to pay “the rising and unsustainable costs of emergency services,” and the contracting out provisions of the collective agreement.

It is considering contracting out services such as communications, plans examination and building inspection, and mechanical repair.

The interest arbitration resumes Sept. 9.