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This article was published 21/6/2018 (510 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mayor Brian Bowman and city council have spoken: it's time for the firefighters' local to get in line with other civic unions in Winnipeg and start picking up the tab for its president's salary.
Council made its position on the matter resoundingly clear Thursday, voting 14-1 in favour of Bowman's motion seeking to get taxpayers off the hook for the cost of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg President Alex Forrest once and for all.
"We're playing clean-up on this matter and I'm grateful members of council supported the direction and the motion that was brought forward. What we're trying to do is we're trying to fix things. We're also trying to not make the same mistakes that were made in the past," Bowman said, following the vote.
The lone dissenter was Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski), who was endorsed by the UFFW during the last municipal election in 2014. Prior to voting, Eadie rose from his seat to speak to the motion, saying that while he agreed the city shouldn't be paying Forrest's salary, he considered the motion "political bait."
Eadie questioned whether Bowman was acting in "good faith" by bringing forward the motion, asking why it's only coming before council now in the lead up to a municipal election. The next City of Winnipeg election is set for Oct. 24.
"This is just a political whatever. We're moving into silly season, so I'm not voting for this. All of a sudden this is a big political issue. I think (human resources) matters should be negotiated behind closed doors," Eadie said.
"By no means am I opposed to Alex Forrest. In matter of fact, I think he's one of the best representatives the firefighters have had."
Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights - Fort Garry) was absent during the afternoon council session and did not vote on the motion.
The result means Bowman's plan to scrap the controversial deal that has seen taxpayers footing the bill for Forrest's salary and benefits during his 21-year stint as union president has taken a decisive step forward.
Now that council has spoken, city negotiators have a mandate to approach the UFFW to try to come to a new deal regarding payment of Forrest's salary. Whether Forrest and the union will be open to sitting back down at the bargaining table to hash out a new deal, however, remains to be seen.
When reached for comment Thursday, Forrest provided the Free Press the same written statement he sent last week, making clear he disagrees with Bowman's position on the matter, while also leaving the door open to a potential renegotiation prior to the next round of collective bargaining in 2021.
"We have always said if the city believes they need to re-open any specific clause of the contract due to concerns we are always open to trying to figure a solution," Forrest wrote.
The council vote comes nine days after the Free Press revealed Bowman has yet to sign the latest collective bargaining agreement with the UFFW, pointing to a newly discovered clause in the contract he believes gives the city an out on the widely unpopular salary arrangement. Now that the council vote has taken place, Bowman has indicated he'll soon sign the collective agreement.
In the months leading up to the news the collective agreement still didn't have the mayor's signature on it (more than a year after the deal was unanimously ratified by council), Bowman had made clear the city was locked into the deal until the next round of collective bargaining in 2021.
Forrest has been in hot water since January when it came to light taxpayers paid 100 per cent of his salary and benefits, without reimbursement from the union, since he became union president in 1997. In 2014, that deal was renegotiated, with the city agreeing to pay 60 per cent of his salary and benefits for the remainder of however long he remains union president.
Other civic unions in Winnipeg reimburse the city in full for their presidents' salaries and benefits. It remains unclear why Forrest is an exception to this practice, with the city unable to find any paper trail explaining why, or when, the unusual deal was struck.
Should Forrest and the UFFW agree to sit back down at the bargaining table to hash out a new deal, city negotiators will be required to report back to council within 30 days on the state of the talks.
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.
Updated on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at 5:08 PM CDT: Fixes typo
5:51 PM: Fixes typo
June 22, 2018 at 1:23 PM: Typo fixed.