Winnipeg mayor wants firefighter union president's pay agreement scrapped as soon as possible

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Winnipeg's mayor says an agreement made by the previous administration requiring the city to pay 60 per cent of the salary and benefits of firefighter union president Alex Forrest should be nixed immediately.

"There shouldn't be such an arrangement," Mayor Brian Bowman said Wednesday. "I'm not happy about it. I'd like it scrapped as soon as possible."

Bowman said he appreciates Forrest and the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg have indicated the union would be open to negotiating the pay agreement at the next round of collective bargaining, but the mayor wants it done sooner.

On Wednesday, he said he was not aware of the deal until it was raised by reporters earlier this month.

In an interview with CBC News, Reid Douglas — who was chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service between December 2011 and September 2013 — said he tried to end the deal during his time with the city. Douglas believes his predecessor as chief, Jim Brennan, struck the deal with Forrest in 2007.

Douglas said he never found anything in writing about the pay arrangement, and said Forrest confirmed to him at the time that no documentation existed because it was a verbal agreement Forrest and Brennan had honoured. 

Douglas was fired amid the fire hall land-swap controversy, before he could end the deal. He told CBC News he let city officials know of his intentions to do so before he left, so that they could address the unwritten agreement in the upcoming round of bargaining talks with the UFFW.

Instead of scrapping the deal as Douglas had intended, the city entered into a formal letter of agreement in 2014 that committed taxpayers to covering 60 per cent of Forrest's salary and benefits for as long as he remained union president.

"We negotiated and it was brought forward to city council," Forrest said in a previous phone interview with CBC News.

"The city councils and [executive policy committee] knew what they were signing. And it was actually unanimous in 2014."

Although the city and UFFW signed a new collective agreement in 2017, a spokesperson for the city said there was no proposal made to amend the 2014 deal, because it remains in effect as long as Forrest is president of the firefighters union.

On Wednesday, Bowman said the city's new chief negotiator, Robert Kirby, is working to prevent this sort of situation from happening again. 

"Changes have been made going forward in many of the collective agreements that we've approved that end that practice," the mayor said.

"If [an agreement is] not identified in an open and transparent way [in a contract], it's null and void."