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Ontario Officials Concerned About High Awards Given in Arbitration

Friday, February, 15, 2013


Financial administrators in the Canadian province of Ontario are concerned about the growing pervasiveness of arbitration involving disputes between emergency services personnel and the cities or townships they serve.  According to some, these arbitration hearings are having a significant impact on property taxes—an impact that trickles down to every citizen within the city.

Mayor Hazel McCallion of Mississauga is also Chair of the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO), and stated that, "In the region of Peel, the police budget is the biggest part of the budget. And the fire department in Mississauga is a very, very high cost."

However, arbitration for disputes involving city workers and emergency services personnel has been the status quo, since many of these workers are unable to strike but remain under the power of collective bargaining.  The argument against arbitration to resolve these disputes, however, is that there is a considerable lack of transparency and fairness, which has put a lot of financial strain on cities that are already forced to tighten their budges due to the recent economic crisis.  Ontario as a province is no exception.  

Additionally, the time required to arbitrate a dispute is usually between 18 months and two years—a timeframe that leaves many cities in a bind when determining how to budget for that span.  It has also been noted that police and fire departments are typically at the top of the list for emergency workers who do well in arbitration.  The discrepancy between the arbitration awards given to these two divisions of workers has been slated as unfair by other city workers who attempt to find the same success in arbitration but fail to do so. 

According to Gary Burroughs, Niagara Regional Chair and spokesperson for Mayors and Regional Chairs of Ontario (MARCO), police department personnel were granted a 10% pay raise along with increased benefits over the span of three years in Niagara thanks to arbitration.  He further stated that the local economy has struggled and the region could not afford it.  "At the time, the average household income in the region was 16% lower than the provincial average," he said.  "It's important to remember that arbitrators are spending tax dollars."