The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear a case against the city over Montreal firefighters who had been trying to invalidate a 25 percent increase in their workers’ contributions since 2014. The removal of the country’s top court therefore ends a long legal saga that could, however, continue as early as this autumn.
Posted at 12:01
Updated at 2:46 p.m
It all started in this case in December 2014 when Bill 15 – known as Bill 3 before it was passed – was adopted. Specifically, it mandates 50/50 cost-sharing in municipal pension plans. It was quickly challenged by several unions in court. Besides, it’s still on point.
One of the consequences of this law was an almost 25% increase in the contributions payable by members of the Association of Firefighters of Montreal (APM) as a contribution to their pension plan. The organization then argued that this increase constituted a “benefit reduction” for its members within the meaning of Article 40.02 of its collective agreement signed with the city.
In September 2015, Montreal and its firefighters tried to reach a settlement for the first time, but the city refused to consider the fee increase a “benefit cut” and forced the MPA to file a complaint in arbitration. In 2017, the parties had agreed on the reorganization of the fire brigade pension fund, but without resolving the dispute over the issue of employee contributions.
Expedited arbitration was then initiated. In 2018, an arbitrator dismissed the firefighters’ complaint, ruling that the employer’s contribution was a “benefit” to the employee but not a “benefit” under the group plan. The Fire Brigade Association quickly challenged the decision in the Supreme Court and then in the Court of Appeal. The two courts have dismissed the cases, as the Supreme Court has just done, ending debates.
“The fight is not over yet”
At the Firefighters Association, President Chris Ross made no secret of his “disappointment” when contacted by The press. “We are not really surprised, but it is certain that there is great disappointment among our members with this decision. It is a daily financial burden on them. Paying $300 net less still feels like it,” he slips.
However, he recalls that his group is still in court to challenge the “constitutionality” of Law 15. “We expect to make further progress on the admissibility of this law. In other words, the fight isn’t over, it’s just being postponed,” Mr Ross said in an interview.
The president also expects to plead his case in the Court of Appeals this fall, or at most “early 2023.” “What we regret is that we didn’t really have the power to negotiate this law. The conclusions in the negotiation were already made and planned in advance, so it wasn’t really a free negotiation,” the firefighter supports with training.
“If we end up breaking the law, we’ll get the same results,” he bursts out, demanding above all justice and better conditions for his colleagues. However, Chris Ross, who offered his support to Mayor Valérie Plante at the last election, acknowledges that this act “definitely did nothing to improve” the relationship with the city. “However, we try to keep things separate and separate each file. Otherwise, it affects the rest of labor relations,” he concludes.
The city of Montreal said Thursday it took note of the Supreme Court’s decision, but refrained from commenting because the case law is still active.