EDITORIALS

City Hall Ineptitude Not Limitied to Land Swap & WPS HQ Fiasco

Help Wanted, No Bullshit

I’ve seen a great deal of press lately surrounding the dreaded fire hall land swap deal and the astronomical cost overruns associated to the WPS HQ project.

Can there be any doubt fiscal responsibility and integrity will be the major issues in the next Mayoral election in the City of Winnipeg.

Tax payers are fed up with inept City Councillors spending tax dollars like a bunch of roaring drunks in an old West saloon.  As if the 3.87% property tax increase wasn’t hard enough to swallow, City Councillors voted in favour of inflating their ward allowances by a staggering $40,000.00.  Not long after that atrocity was announced we learned City Council hired the Matrix Consulting Group to conduct an Operational Review of the Winnipeg Police Service for the paltry sum of $174,000.00.

The timing of the review was questioned by people who felt it undermined newly hired Police Chief Devon Clunis’ ability to effect change and implement his vision for the Police Service.

Paying outrageous consulting fees has become the “soup of the day” at City Hall.  It seems City Councillors are incapable of putting pen to paper, doing research or putting in the work necessary to come to independent conclusions.  I often wonder if it’s about laziness or liability?

Why stick your neck out when you can commission a study and implement change you never have to defend.  City Councillors have become quite adept at deflecting responsibility and insulating themselves with consultants reports.

After spending over twenty-six (26) years working for the Winnipeg Police Service I noticed a similar approach to labour negotiations with certain City Unions like the Winnipeg Police Association and the Association representing the Winnipeg Fire Fighters & Paramedics.

Since I commenced employment with the WPS in 1987 the WPA & City have been involved in a total of six (6) adversarial contract arbitrations and have now entered into their seventh (7th).

Arbitrated settlements between the City of Winnipeg & the WPA:

  • 1988 – The Chapman Arbitration
  • 1996 – The Foxx-Decent Arbitration
  • 2000 – The Friedman Arbitration
  • 2002 – The Peltz Arbitration
  • 2006 – The Hamilton Arbitration
  • 2010 – The Secter Arbitration
  • 2012 – Pending Arbitration

Each of these arbitrations come with a significant price tag.

Costs incurred by the Winnipeg Police Association for the Secter Arbitration are conservatively estimated at $200,000.00.  The City of Winnipeg incurs similar costs as they retain “outside” legal counsel to represent their interests.

If you do the math, you can estimate the City of Winnipeg has or will have spent in excess of one (1) million dollars on arbitrated settlements with the WPA over the last twenty-five (25) years or so.  And that’s just with the WPA.

The problem infecting Police contract negotiations is the same disease that’s infected almost every aspect of a dysfunctional City Hall.  Laziness, lack of responsibility and lack of accountability. Why sit across the table with members of the WPA and hammer out a tough agreement when you can spend $200,000.00. on an arbitration and blame the arbitrator for increased costs associated to Policing.

It’s my understanding the City negotiators rarely come to the table with even a remote interest to arrive at a fair settlement.  I’ve been to the hearings and watched in amazement as Lawyers for the City were consistently destroyed by WPA Association counsel Mr Keith LaBossiere.

Ultimately, it rarely made a difference which side presented a stronger case.

Arbitrations by their very nature are exercises at compromise.  Arbitration panels take both sides of an equation and do their utmost to “saw off” contentious issues.  Simply put, no one side generally wins in an arbitration.  With this widely accepted understanding of the process, you would think the City would prefer to avoid the prohibitive costs related to arbitration and engage in legitimate collective agreement bargaining practises.

Certain realities will never change;

  • Police wages must rise because the cost of living rises.
  • WPS wages must be competitive to wages in other comparative jurisdictions.
  • WPS Officers must be paid higher wage increases than other civic unions because of the stress, danger and risk Police Officers face in comparison to other civic employees.  (A principle firmly upheld by previous arbitrated awards.)

Unfortunately, the City of Winnipeg continues to try to divorce themselves from these realities.

Adversarial arbitrated contract settlements have another less obvious effect.  They have a tendency to destroy morale and poison the minds of the workers.  It can be difficult to calculate the costs associated to a frustrated, disenfranchised work force.

When it comes to Policing, those costs can manifest themselves in many ways.

The time has come for a change in culture at City Hall.

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