Show me the Money…

A rumour was recently heard that the RCMP may be in line to get a 12% pay raise; but before everyone jumps for joy and goes out and buys the new F150, or puts up that downpayment on the east end fixer upper, all of which you have been putting off for the past seven frozen years– there was a bit of a caveat in that rumour. There was no term or length mentioned, nor was it thought to be retroactive. So if 12% seems great, imagine it spread over the next five years and it loses some of its lustre.

A needed pay raise seems to be on the lips of almost all officers in the RCMP. Meanwhile they wait. The yet to be certified National Police Federation (NPF) state that in terms of their priorities, an interim pay agreement is the first order of business should they reach the goal of certification.

The NPF are currently in a holding pattern, much to the dismay of many RCMP members. They are being held in abeyance by those upstart C Division members, otherwise known as the QMPMA, who are challenging bill C-7, which allows for the unionization of the RCMP, but it only allows for a single representative union. The votes are in throughout the country, but the results are not being revealed until such time as the challenge launched by the QMPMA has been reviewed by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board (FPSLREB)

The Quebec members are challenging the constitutionality of Bill C-7, in particular where the Act calls for a single police voice. Though the Board can not change or amend Bill C-7, they can decide whether the law infringes on Quebec members Charter rights. The hearing is currently scheduled for March 26-27, and a ruling should be given within the week, or so they promise.

Clearly the NPF does not want a ruling in favourof the QMPMA and its 800 members; it argues and wants to represent Canadian RCMP officers as a whole, not a sum of many parts.

The QMPMA for its part and partially in response says it is being unfairly scapegoated for these further delays. It has argued in the past and continues to argue that there should indeed be one union representing Canadian Mounties, but feel that Quebec, because of its cultural and language differences, should have a strong position or seat at the executive table. They say there are “geographical, functional, administrative, and linguistic characteristics” which make them unique.

To reflect their distinct nature, for instance in the proposed seven member Executive counsel, they believe that there should be a guaranteed Vice-President position coming from or guaranteed to the QMPMA . The problem is arguably two-fold; only 4.4% of the RCMP works in Quebec so the mere numbers do not demand such over representation and secondly; it is the question as to whether cultural and linguistic differences are measurable in terms of police work. Many would say that the police role in a union or bargaining unit, should be relatively blind to cultural differences, thereby making it a moot argument.

Whether one believes that a special seat should be reserved for Quebec members is a political issue, it is not an argument that is impactful in terms of the economics of labour. The members will need to decide, but in the meantime this issue seems to be destined to be played out further for at least the short term. If the Board rules in the favour of the QMPMA, one could only think that this would force some serious coming together on the part of the NPF to try and resolve the issue, rather than force further delays.

Politics aside, there is little argument over what constitutes the primary issue in the short term, everyone seemingly is banging the same drum of necessity for “a pay increase”. They reflexively point to the current seven year freeze on the RCMP salaries as the obvious and primary justification for a pay raise. The freeze has meant they have fallen behind the other police forces which form their universe.

The RCMP salary structure over the years has always relied on the police “universe” which is made up of other municipal and Provincial agencies who negotiated their own separate pay increments. The Mounties simply attached themselves to these groups and watch as the “ratcheting” effect forces the Federal government to try and keep the RCMP officers in the same general range– an apple to apple comparison they argue. Just as clearly, the RCMP management has been woefully inadequate in their ability to keep up, as there are current claims that the membership is now 65th out of 80 police agencies. Implicit in this argument of course is that the RCMP by its very nature should at least be in the top ten.

Is this an opportunity to address some of the glaring problems of the salary structure?

Every officer in the RCMP are viewed as being the same, doing the same job, interchangeable. Therefore one raise, one salary fits all. It falls from this logic that everyone in the RCMP is equal in value, therefore, the pay should be exactly the same across the board.

Clearly this automatic pushing up of salaries has stalled in the past 7 years, but it is equally clear that there are some who are studying this ratchet effect, and questioning the viability of continuing with this same model. It naturally leads to the discussions as to whether police officers are becoming unaffordable.

Will the discount coupons that municipalities in this country get by using cheaper Mountie labour be removed by unionization? Will political control of the police service in their community be more viable if they are paying the full bill when the discount disappears as a result of increased salaries.

This one size fits all in terms of pay raises has pointed to some recurrent issues over the years which have never been dealt with in any substantive way. The single pay structure has created holes in the system, impediments that have negatively impacted such things as recruitment and retainment.

For many years there has been internal and eternal debates across the country. Does an RCMP officer stationed in New Brunswick deserve the same pay as an officer working in Surrey? Does an officer working in uniform on the streets deserve the same salary as an officer working in an administrative function?

Is it time that the RCMP gives some consideration to the clearly obvious, that all jobs in the RCMP are not the same, and all officers are not working in the same location.

If one looks at some agreed upon factors for employment classification programs which lead to a determination of a salary, in most jobs and in most circumstances, they can be summed up in nine categories:

  1. geographic location
  2. Industry – what industry are you in? are you a lawyer working for a large firm, or are you a public prosecutor
  3. Education
  4. Experience
  5. Performance Reports
  6. Whether or not your’e a boss- Supervision
  7. Associations and Certifications
  8. Hazardous Working Conditions
  9. Shift Differentials

What is interesting in reviewing these categories is that the one size fits all argument of the RCMP does not fit into most of these factors. Geographic location, industry, education, performance reports, associations or certifications have no bearing on the actual salary determination in RCMP negotiations with Treasury Board. Five of the nine factors that should be considered are not in the RCMP model.

The disconnect is the most obvious when one considers the geographic factor. There is no allowance for where you live in the calculation(with the obvious exception for isolated posts). An officer can pay $300,000 for a house in the Maritimes where in Vancouver the average house price is $1.2 million. When there is a requirement to work and live in the area you are policing, how can this still not be a factor.

A New Jersey police officer makes about $70,000 per year, whereas an officer in Wyoming makes about $40,000.00 per year. Almost the entire difference is due to the geographic component.

The average Toronto police officer makes $98,000 and more than half of those officers make over $100,000. This partly comes from the labour argument of having to live in an expensive city. Burnaby or Richmond RCMP officers can easily make this same argument, but it is not quite as simple if you are in fact working in Weyburn, Saskatchewan.

Going down the factor list. Education is at a bare minimum to get into the RCMP, let alone a consideration in determining ultimate salaries. There is no accounting for graduate degrees or specialized courses of study when factoring in how much money someone should earn.

Experience is not a factor, the only pay raise that is expected is one where one is promoted, where one would be taking on supervisor duties. There is no value given to someone being on the job for a length of time. A twelve year member makes the same amount of money as the three year member. Somewhat ludicrous when one considers the amount of “learning on the job” that is experienced and is especially particular to police work.

How well you do the job is not really a salary issue either. Yes, there are performance requirements in terms of bare minimum, but the officer doing a great job is not rewarded through any kind of salary renumeration. There is no structure in place to measure or implement such a scheme.

There are a couple of factors that do apply currently. There are in fact shift differentials in place, and everyone points to the hazardous nature of the job.

One should be cautious about the hazardous nature of the job in arguing it as a primary factor. It is not as cut and dry as imagined by the general public. Statistically policing is not the most dangerous job, in fact it is not even in the top ten. The QMPMA argue in their web page writings, that their officers are on the “front line” implying a greater need for consideration. Are they on the front line in a non-contract Province?

Statistically the most dangerous policing job may in fact be highway patrol, or an officer working in a rural area, far from backup.

So is it possible in this age of data and data scientists that some form of algorithm could calculate some base salary which is consistent with the specific job, in a a specific location, or take into account some specialized training or experience. Could it be loaded in such a way that measurements could be made of the level of hazard to a specific job, that there would be greater compensation for those working in uniform interacting with the public everyday? Could those calculations make it more palatable to be working in shift work, in uniform, in an expensive city? Could this be beneficial in keeping officers on the road? Possibly.

In a discussion of RCMP salaries and the expectations of a pay raise, one would be remiss if one did not examine the current salary figures, especially in comparison to the general public. Consider the following:

The average police officer in the U.S. makes $54,462 as of January 1, 2019. Now, this is U.S dollars, so let’s add another 25% to take into account the American dollar. That would be an additional $13,615,50 for a total salary of $68,057.50.

The RCMP fresh from Depot Mountie makes $53,144 and at the end of 36 months is making $86,110.

The average RCMP officer makes $94,081.

To be in the top 10% of compensation for all employments in this country you need to be above $93,000. So the vast majority of police officers in this country, and in particular the RCMP are already making in the top ten percentile. If one is going to argue financial need, it is tentative ground. The highest paid public servants are currently, police, fire and ambulance workers.

When one considers all these factors and arguments, is there any expectation that this is anything more than food for thought?

No.

It seems unlikely that any union in its early stages could venture down the road of changing the current salary structure and in fact there may be no current capability to undertake a more complicated formula. And, everyone knows RCMP management is not exactly a troupe given to improvisation. And, if you listen closely you can hear the howls of dismay even on reading these suggestions, as there is normally not much sympathy in the East for the members on the West Coast. A brother and sisterhood maybe, but when it comes to money most Mounties have historically been quite insular.

If one is reading the tea leaves, in terms of where the Mounties are headed both in salary and in terms of the structure of the whole organization, one also can not discount the recent developments; the emphasis on Federal over Provincial policing; Surrey the largest Canadian RCMP detachment going to a Municipal force; the removal of the administrative role for the RCMP; an advisory Board to begin exerting its influence over change in the RCMP; and a growing concern amongst the public and the politicians as to the ratcheting of police salaries.

This also may be for nought as the other rumour being heard out of Ottawa is that the RCMP may be aiming to get out of contract policing altogether. Throwing uniform policing back to the Provinces, and heading for an FBI styled RCMP. Commissioner Lucki to be the next Herbert Hoover?

Either way it is clear that any new union is going to have its hands full in the next few years and hopefully it will not end up spending its time just re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

It is difficult to imagine Mounties arm in arm, bullhorn at the ready screaming “Workers of the world unite”! And it may be a little premature to picture the red serge marching in lockstep to the Communist Manifesto, as imagined by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Maybe Bob Dylan summed it up the best.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and “Images Money” with Some Rights Reserved.

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