City didn’t have to pay firefighters union president’s $1.2M in salary

Apparently ignored clause in collective agreements addressing unpaid leave for union members

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The City of Winnipeg appears to have ignored language set out in six consecutive collective agreements with the local firefighters union by agreeing to pay for part – and at times all – of the labour president's salary, including benefits and pension payments, for 17 years.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/01/2018 (1714 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg appears to have ignored language set out in six consecutive collective agreements with the local firefighters union by agreeing to pay for part – and at times all – of the labour president’s salary, including benefits and pension payments, for 17 years.

A clause included in each agreement since 1995 explicitly states union-related leaves of absence for city employees will be without pay.

Despite this agreement, a city spokesman previously said the city believes it may have paid United Firefighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest nearly $1.2 million in salary between 1997 and 2013 – without a written agreement between the two parties.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Alex Forrest, president of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, may have been paid nearly $1.2 million in salary by the city between 1997 and 2013 — without a written agreement.

Forrest has been on full-time leave of absence since 2014. In a past interview with the Free Press, he confirmed the City of Winnipeg has been paying part of his salary (and at times 100 per cent of it) since he became union president.

It remains unclear why the city apparently ignored the language set out in its own collective agreements by paying Forrest while on full-time leave for union work.

The Free Press requested comment on the apparent contradiction between the agreements and the city’s actions Monday. A spokesman said a statement on the matter was coming, but most likely wouldn’t be ready until Tuesday.

“With the approval of the chief and the Winnipeg Civic Employees’ Benefits Program, leave of absence without pay will be granted to a maximum of two employees at any one time to perform work for the benefit of the union,” reads the 2013-16 agreement.

A lawyer with a specialization in labour law said the clause is a standard provision in many collective agreements, but had no explanation for why one party would apparently ignore the language it had agreed to.

Based on the best evidence at the city’s disposal, a spokesman previously said it appears the city paid 100 per cent of Forrest’s salary (plus benefits and pension) from the time he became president of the UFFW in 1997, until March 2014, when the city renegotiated the deal down to 60 per cent.

It remains unclear why the city would pay any of Forrest’s salary without an arrangement in writing.

“Apart from Alex Forrest, there are no other UFFW executive members who perform union duties full-time. The time UFFW executive members spend on union activities is governed in accordance with the applicable articles of the collective agreement,” wrote a city spokesman said in an email Monday.

Civic unions representing city employees generally reimburse taxpayers for their president’s salaries, as well as the salary for employees on a leave of absence for part-time union work.

But a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request for documentation related to employees doing union work while being paid by the city between 2009 and 2013, indicates no money was reimbursed by the UFFW.

“There is no record of the City of Winnipeg being reimbursed by UFFW for employees doing union work while being paid by the city for the years 2009-2013,” reads the response to the request.

That means it appears the UFFW did not reimburse taxpayers for part-time union work done by city employees between 2009 and 2013, despite language in the collective agreement in effect at the time stating union-related leaves of absence will be without pay.

It remains unclear how many city employees – if any at all – were on leaves of absence for part-time union work during that time period.

Requests for information on how many city employees were on leave for UFFW work during those years, and if taking time off for part-time union work would constitute a leave as per the language set out in the collective agreement, were unable to be responded to by the time of publication.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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Updated on Monday, January 15, 2018 10:04 PM CST: Updated story

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