The Cost of Policing – Part 3 – A Province-Wide Solution

Throughout my Board tenure, I have pursued a number of cost management initiatives all designed to mitigate the growth rate in the annual Police budget request to Council.

One such effort focused on cultivating a province-wide Coordinated Bargaining Strategy (CBS).

Coordinated Bargaining

In 2011, the Board began a concerted effort to encourage other municipal police boards to join the CBS and align each of their respective contract negotiations with each other, to help mitigate the escalation in contract settlements with individual police associations.

The CBS was designed to emulate the lead bargaining approach used so successfully in the auto sector,  where one of the larger, more powerful boards would be designated as the lead and allow the terms of that contract to  positively influence the terms of other contracts in the province.

In the decade prior to the launch of this initiative, the annual pay rate associated with a first-class constable’s salary had increased approximately 33-percent over the rate of inflation.  Not surprisingly, this rapid rate of increase in salary expenses contributed significantly to the escalation of costs in successive municipal police budget requests.  Our Board realized that if it hoped to slow this growth rate, it needed all of its counterparts across Ontario to exercise the same level of cost discipline over this labour expense.

Over the next three years, the CBS initiative expanded to include some thirty-seven (37) of the fifty-three (53) police services boards in Ontario.   Unfortunately, some Boards continued to negotiate outside of the CBS, resulting in successively higher salary increases for the other municipalities in the province.  It became apparent that the vast majority of Police Boards, who are largely comprised of volunteers and political appointees, simply lacked the business acumen and negotiating experience to match the bargaining effectiveness of its respective police association, and as a result, we were losing way more than winning.

Still, the initiative did have a positive impact and exerted some downward pressure on wage increases.  Where the average annual wage increase was routinely in excess of 3-percent in the years 2003 through 2014, recent contracts have seen the average annual wage increase drop to under 2-percent.  This resulted in a $40 million annual savings to Ontario taxpayers.

However, much more work still needed to be done.  First, Police Boards (and municipal politicians) needed to stop scapegoating police officers or the arbitration system, and start matching the sophistication and bargaining strength of their police associations.   Second, both senior levels of government needed more carefully consider the impacts of new legislation or the downloading of social services (e.g. mental health) on municipal police services and their officer’s ability to absorb these changes.  In the absence of such consideration, the police services and the associations have had no choice but to push back.

Finally, a new, more focused approach to bargaining is needed, and needed quickly if we hope to avoid a return to 3-percent average annual settlements.

Centralized Bargaining

In 2015, I was named to a provincial task force charged with exploring the introduction of a centralized bargaining model for police services across the province.  The model was designed to emulate the province’s success managing the growth rate in teacher and health care worker salaries.  In the same 10-year period outlined earlier, teacher and nurse salaries only increased by 10-percent over the rate of inflation.  This growth rate, while still impressive, was well below the 3x increase earned by police and fire services over that same period.

In my opinion, centralized bargaining also made sense when one noted that the salary range difference between police officers working anywhere in Ontario is (astonishingly) under $1000 per year.  In other words, a 1st class constable in Toronto is making roughly the same as a 1st class constable in say, Amherstburg.   It follows that if there is little price difference between police officers in Ontario, then why not negotiate the price point for all officers across Ontario?

Sadly, it is my understanding that the process has since stalled for reasons unknown.

So, if elected, I plan to re-introduce this approach to my counterparts in other municipalities, with the following stipulations:

First, I would recommend focusing the centralized bargaining approach on salaries only. Matters surrounding hours of work, shift schedules, benefits and leave would be negotiated locally.  However, with pay rates influencing approximately 85-92% of the entire police budget, some level of province-wide fiscal discipline would surely slow the growth rate and result in much more productive management-labour working relationship.

 Second, I would remind municipalities of the benefits. Centralized bargaining would:

  • Allow all boards and municipalities to benefit from professional expertise in labour relations.
  • Allow local police boards to focus on other community priorities (e.g. diversity).
  • Provide for greater continuity between contracts versus having to start all over with new players at the table.
  • Reduce the need for local legal expense and external negotiating expertise.
  • Present municipalities with an opportunity to partner with their association and collectively push back on the downloading of social services or legislation that could impact future police relations.

Finally, I would remind my counterparts that firefighter contracts frequently mirror police salary levels and vice versa. This means that a tempering of the growth rate in one protective service would likely have a similar impact in the other.

Let’s Fix This

Interestingly, I have had the opportunity to speak with police association leaders and they all recognize the need to bring some negotiating balance to the bargaining process. However, it is not their job to negotiate from our side of the table.  Their job is to represent the interests of their members and they have done it exceedingly well over the past 10 years.

It is now up to municipal leaders to exercise some fiscal discipline of their own. Taxpayers should no longer accept the inevitable hang-wringing from municipal politicians that arise every year when the police present their budget or the sunshine lists are published.  It is no longer acceptable to simply pass the buck.

Municipal leaders have the means available to fix this problem.  So, let’s fix it.