Mayor Brian Bowman reiterated it Wednesday: it’s a bad deal that he wants the city to get out of immediately.
But, without some cooperation, it looks like Winnipeggers could continue to be on the hook for a large part of a firefighter’s salary who doesn’t actually fight fires.
For years, Winnipeg taxpayers have been subsidizing the salary of Alex Forrest, the firefighter’s union head. It’s a long-standing agreement that dates back decades and one that totals hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I’d like [the deal] scrapped and I’d like it scrapped as soon as possible,” Mayor Bowman said.
In 2014, it was put into writing: taxpayers paying for 60 per cent of Forrest’s salary until 2020.
At the very least, that means the city is paying close to half a million dollars for a union head who is on full-time leave from his firefighting job. Currently, he makes a base salary of close to $120,000, of which approximately $70,000 is paid by the city.
He also collects a union salary and International Association of Fire Fighters trustee salary that add even more zeroes to Forrest’s annual income.
But, while the mayor has said repeatedly that he wants to renegotiate the deal, Toronto labour lawyer Howard Levitt said Wednesday it might not be that easy.
“There’s a reason these contracts are ironclad,” Levitt said.
“Either both parties agree to renegotiate and keep the contract or one party says ‘I don’t care about this contract anymore and I’m going to breach it,'” Levitt said. “But that’s the worst possible situation because then they could get sued.”
As it stands now, Forrest said he’d be willing to renegotiate who pays his salary, but that he doesn’t plan to go back to the table until the contract expires in 2020.
“The city has always paid the fire department president’s salary,” Forrest said.
“If I can negotiate that with the city, who is a client, that can save my members union dues. I’m not about to apologize for doing the job of my members.”
The city currently pays for other union boss salaries, but other major unions reimburse taxpayers for their president’s income.