13th District Vice President
In accordance with the provisions of Article VI, Section 7, of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Constitution and By-Laws, I respectfully submit this report of my activity as the 13th District Vice President to General President Harold Schaitberger, General Secretary-Treasurer Edward Kelly, the IAFF Executive Board, and all officers and delegates in attendance at the 54th Convention in Seattle, Washington. This report contains a summary of my activities and those across the district from April 2016 to April 2018. I attended all executive board meetings, IAFF events and carried out all assignments given me by General President Schaitberger.
The “lucky” 13th District proudly represents over 13,000 IAFF members across Ontario and Manitoba, Canada. I attended the respective provincial conventions, provincial seminars, meetings, events, and any local meetings and campaigns where required. A good portion of my time is devoted to providing advice, guidance, advocacy and the coordination of our incredible depth of services for our locals. I am very appreciative to all our divisions, my DFSR Mark Train and service representatives for the wide variety of support and dedication they have provided to get the job done.
CLC Canadian Council
After DVP Emeritus Lorne West retired I was appointed as the IAFF representative on the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Canadian Council. Since my appointment we have had a number of Council meetings and one Convention. The CLC achieved significant gains for labour with improvements to the Canadian Pension Plan and recognition of asbestos as a dangerous substance and the ban on its use going forward. Our current campaigns include the fight for a nationwide $15 per hour minimum wage and universal pharmaceutical coverage.
In early 2018 internal turmoil struck the CLC when our largest affiliate UNIFOR (300,000 members) abruptly disaffiliating to raid another union (UNITE Here) and their representation of the workers in downtown hotels in Toronto (approx. 8,000 members). This became a very fractious issue as it was only one year prior where UNIFOR was accused of attempting to raid a Toronto-based ATU Local. These activities were framed by them as a fight for Canadian workers being mistreated by their international unions.
At a special Council meeting in early February the CLC president was being called out for also being a member of UNIFOR. The CLC Constitution clearly states that to hold office you must be a member of an affiliate. During this time, he became a member of another affiliate as did other UNIFOR members holding key positions within the broader labour movement. While the move represented poor judgment, he and the others did not violate the constitution and joined the other affiliates in accordance with their respective constitutions. It was revealed that this had been done in the past. In the end, the CLC president was supported by a majority vote of the Council.
We will get a full financial picture and operational strategy as a result of the disaffiliation during our next Council meeting in April of this year.
In recent years saw a very positive shift in our federal politics with a move to a Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Immediately his office reached out, expressing a desire to build a relationship with us and labour in general. The interaction has been well received, and the Prime Minister attended our legislative conference. The government not only committed to support our long-time lobby issue, the PSOB (Public Safety Officer Compensation Benefit), but officials enacted it under a different title, the Community Heroes Benefit. This benefit, which took effect on April 1, 2018, will provide approximately $300,000 to the spouse of a fire fighter who dies in the line of duty. This payment does not supplant any other payments and will cover occupational disease determined by the provinces.
The next federal election will be in October 2019.
Conversely, in Manitoba there is a move to the far right following the election of a Progressive Conservative government under Premier Brian Pallister. This government has taken a page out of other PC government austerity initiatives by cutting services, freezing wages, and transferring payments. Thus far we have been fortunate that those cuts have not yet hit our locals, but there is a current stir in Winnipeg regarding the delivery of EMS.EMS is provided by the fire service with cross-trained paramedic/fire fighters on each vehicle providing at a minimum primary care paramedic response and ALS single-role ambulance response. The model also includes the ability for the paramedic/fire fighter to cancel an ambulance for transport when it is not required. The model has been very successful and received positive reviews in a Manitoba government study and an independent study by a professor from Carleton University in Ottawa. It also compared favorably in benchmarking initiatives against other municipalities.
The concern is that the provincial government will not be willing to increase its transfer payments for the single role ambulance delivery. The city is contemplating sending that service back to the province. This is a double-edged sword. The single-role paramedics who are against the model see moving back to the province as a means of diluting reliance upon the fire service. However, we believe with the results of the model thus far, it will be very difficult for the city and the province to reduce that service to its largest population. Our Winnipeg local has begun training their paramedics in some ALS procedures that may prove to become part of the delivery service where the province may then use the former city ALS single-role paramedics elsewhere in the province. This will be an ongoing interesting issue which might affect efforts in Canada.
Manitoba’s next provincial election is expected in October 2020.
In Ontario they enjoyed some recent success with passage of amendments to the province’s Ambulance Act. Included in the amendments is an opportunity to host two government-funded pilot projects whereby fire fighters who are also trained and certified as paramedics will be allowed to use their full scope of training when responding on a fire truck. Currently they are restricted to the procedures under the tiered response agreement and the level of training for all fire fighters on that respective department. Similar to Winnipeg, changes to the act include divergence strategies and the ability for the paramedic/fire fighter to cancel an ambulance. At the time of this writing, no pilot sites had been identified.
Other political changes include new regulations under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. These regulations include introducing professional qualifications for all positions within the fire service as prescribed in the NFPA standards.
Another regulation deals with public reporting of municipal fire services and their operations compared with the definitions contained within NFPA 1710. While this is only public reporting and does not mandate compliance with the standard, it sets our locals up to identify service delivery gaps for lobbying or campaigns.
The regulations have gone through the public reporting requirements and at the time of writing this report we are awaiting cabinet approval.
The Ontario PFFA led these efforts, and the IAFF provided substantial support with staff and FIREPAC contributions.
Ontario voters will go to the polls on June 7, 2018. The current Liberal government has been in power for 15 years is trailing in the polls but recent events within the opposition Progressive Conservative party changed the landscape. The former leader stepped down following allegations of sexual misconduct. Legislators selected a new leader they believed would carry them through the next election only to have the party insist on a leadership convention. This race proved contentious among party members. Doug Ford was elected leader on the third ballot. Ford is the older brother of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and is equally outspoken and is considered a right-wing politician. This sets the stage for a glove dropping election with very clear choices regarding political platforms.
Municipal elections occur this fall across our entire district.
We experienced several episodes that required “fighting back” assistance in some form, whether it be from a representation or staff perspective, financial, or both across the district.
Our Sault Ste Marie Local saw its fortunes make a complete turnaround. The fire chief who led a “realignment” effort to reduce staff at the expense of supporting local EMS services was fired. The Ontario Fire Marshal conducted a risk assessment of the city for compliance with the Fire Protection and Prevention Act. A new approach from city management and council proved to be more inclusive. With some hesitation the local participated in a master fire plan process. The plan included numerous recommendations, and the local supported many of the findings. The new fire chief recommended that the council establish a minimum of 15 fire fighters on duty plus one in communications for the short term. Then the city would, move to 16 on duty, contracting for communications and having 4 on all first responding pumpers (which they have never had) but reducing from four halls to three. This request not unexpected, and we assisted the local with preparing for this during our GIS mapping project by conducting these scenarios.
In Deep River, Ontario this local had nine members and the fire service had no volunteers. A previous arbitration decision awarded the town their proposal to be able to make the department a composite department with 24 volunteer fire fighters. In exchange, the bargaining unit could be reduced no lower than eight members with four captains. The town simply ignored this provision and never enacted it. At a subsequent arbitration they tried once again to reduce the number of full-time fire fighters to two. Interestingly, the town agreed to consult the same arbitrator from the previous arbitration case. He cited his previous decision and issued the same ruling.
The town ignored the ruling again despite having a consultant’s report about how a composite department could work and the former chief’s proposal as a guide. The town then terminated three members who they cited were only contract employees despite no agreement with the local on this issue. Two other members were on extended sick leave. This reduced their ranks to four members where the town unilaterally changed the hours of work to have them all work straight days leaving the hall (and town) without immediate response on nights and weekends.
We began our advocacy efforts by informing the public via newspaper ads and flyer drops. Their provincial representative assisted the local with filing grievances and unfair labour practice complaints with the labour board. This has been very draining emotionally and financially for this local. They received both EDF and Fighting Back support. The town, which was built primarily in support of a nearby nuclear plant (Chalk River), has a large segment of its population working at the nuclear facility. The corporation operating the plant agreed with town officials in December 2017 to take over management of the fire service on an interim basis. They are expected to make a long-term proposal to the Deep River Council to take over the operations of the town’s fire service. Hopefully, any proposal will offer improved fire protection for the town and improved job protection for our current members. However, there are numerous contract issues that need to be worked out including outstanding grievances and labour board complaints.
In Winnipeg, Manitoba Alex Forrest, our local president, was criticized by the local media. There were an incredible 23 stories in 21 days. The focus was on the fact that under negotiations, the city subsidized Alex’s salary as local president despite his being taken off duty. They focused on Alex and Fire Chief John Lane presenting at various conferences, including our Redmond Symposium, on the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic delivery model. The sensationalist spin is an unfortunate reality with today’s media but in one opinion piece they went too far. The local launched a defamation suit against the Winnipeg Free Press. Alex and the local were offered support throughout this ordeal from all levels of the IAFF, and I attended a meeting with members on February 26.
The most recent issue, at the time of writing this report, occurred in our Oshawa, Ontario local. On January 8tthe city and department experienced one of its worst fire fatalities when four people, two adults and two small children, died in this fire. This fire was a tipping point for this local as this was the fourth fatal fire in 12 months in the same response area. The station for this area lost a truck in April 2017 despite the local’s efforts to maintain two trucks at this station. We conducted a recent GIS mapping report regarding a truck being redeployed to a new fire station which reduced response capabilities in the downtown area. We conducted an initial analysis of the call and the effects to this response area which uncovered that this is the most vulnerable area in the city and is most prone to fires and fire fatalities. The local requested the cooperation of the department and city for response data to allow us to conduct a larger report to assist with reviewing response capabilities city-wide. They have denied any data requests leaving the local to make several Freedom of Information requests. We assisted with media and the provincial is supporting the local with social media efforts. Thus far the local has generated very favourable media coverage in this regard.
On a positive note, in Toronto we had fight back issues for the past few years with staffing reductions, and the local developed an aggressive municipal council government relations program with the appointment of former board member and former Provincial President Mark McKinnon. This focused effort and the positive relationship with current Toronto Fire management has proved beneficial. Not only did the local avoid further proposed cuts from 2017, but they have now replaced those positions lost in previous budgets and added staff in the suppression and prevention divisions.
In St. Catharines, the local reached out for GIS mapping to fight back against anticipated staffing reductions and the elimination of trucks. At the end of a master fire planning process, with the local’s involvement and the appointment of an interim fire chief they turned the focus around to not only maintaining but enhancing staffing. The city and council members accepted the IAFF GIS and standards of cover report during their October 2017 meeting.
Legal Guardian Cases
We had to rely on our Legal Guardian program for several cases this past term. Sean McManus, IAFF Canadian legal counsel, was called upon in each case, and he continues to provide stellar representation for our members.
Not surprisingly in Sault Ste Marie where the realignment efforts by the city are ongoing, we experienced a very contentious period between our local and fire administration. An attempt was made to intimidate the local president when he questioned why the fire service was not dispatched to various calls, and he was critical of the realignment and reduction of staff. The discipline was challenged under our policy before a grievance arbitrator. A settlement was reached, but the terms are confidential.
Another case involved our Kirkland Lake, Ontario local president being passed over for a promotion which was in obvious retaliation for steps he took as the Local President on other issues that the chief took offense to. This is a small local consisting of 10 members and one where our policy truly shines. This issue led to several grievances being filed which the parties agreed to have heard by the same arbitrator who was dealing with their outstanding contract. We were successful in having this member properly promoted and have dealt with the other related grievances in a positive manner. The only outstanding issue remains the actual retroactive date for his promotion which the arbitrator is reviewing.
The next case involved one of our service representatives who is an advocate representing our locals in interest arbitration. He was off sick on doctor’s orders with respect to a return to full duties. He was representing another local at a pre-scheduled mediation hearing which he attended. The employer’s representative for that local also acted for the employer of our service representative in their interest arbitration. He raised the issue of our member being at the mediation hearing. The employer issued discipline on sick leave fraud and misuse of the union replacement policy. A grievance was filed under our policy and went before a grievance arbitrator. A settlement was reached, but the terms are confidential.
Our last case is still ongoing but involves the local president in St. Thomas, Ontario. This president met with one of his members while he was off duty in the union office. The member had concerns related to bullying and harassment in the workplace. The president advised him of taking the route offered by the employer for these circumstances. After a lengthy discussion the member decided not to pursue anything and felt better just talking it out and sent an email to the president the following day stating such. Years later, a workplace incident involving this member and potential violence occurred. The employer conducted an investigation. During the investigation the member raised his claims about bullying and harassment which the investigation concluded had no merit. However, the employer did learn of the previous conversation between this member and the local president. The employer issued a discipline letter and the president to attend training because he also holds the rank of platoon chief. They state he should have reported the discussion as per the employer’s policy. We filed a grievance arguing that the local president was off duty and as he was serving as local president, the conversation should be considered privileged. This is scheduled to go before a grievance arbitrator in December 2018.
IAFF – FGS Program
After years of discussion we received a mobile unit for the IAFF FGS program (truck and trailer). We were given the permission to try a district-wide strategy rather than partner directly with one fire service and train its members and those within a specified radius. Instead, we partnered with our provincial affiliate (the Ontario PFFA) and continue to control the unit and our trainers.
We made a presentation to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and received support from that organization. The Ontario PFFA made a presentation to the Ontario fire marshal who also supported the program as the Ontario Fire College was transitioning away from their self-survival course to providing NFPA RIT.
We held our first train-the-trainer course in June 2017 at the Toronto Special Operations Centre. We had 34 participants from eight different departments. Since then the unit has been utilized for department-wide training in Vaughan, Richmond Hill and Barrie. Vaughan and Toronto have also utilized it for recruit training. We are in the process of scheduling more train-the-trainer courses with the hopes of eventually having at least five classes giving us 150 Certified Trainers for course delivery in the province. The departments that provided the training locally used the mobile unit. On duty staff led the training, thus mitigating overtime.
Thus far the program has been a success with hundreds of members receiving the training.
After the passage of Bill 109 in the Ontario legislature several fire chiefs and mayors misinterpreted the wording in the legislation to mean our members were free to engage in two-hatting without any reprisal. This is not the case as the legislation does not in any way prevent our union members from charging another if there is an alleged violation of our constitution, including secondary employment or two-hatting. The legislation does infer that a member may not be terminated for violating our union rule. This has not been tested and the language was imported from other labour relations legislation which has never contemplated this type of situation but was rather for strike circumstances. Some of our members who were violating this section of the constitution became very brash and vocal, thinking they were somehow protected. As a result, we have experienced a renewed push on these members.
We have charges heard by Trial Boards twice in 2017 with the same result. All members were found guilty. Instead of expelling their membership, which would have forced their home local to pursue termination of employment based upon their collective agreement language, they were issued escalating fines. The fine structure increased the longer someone continued to be in violation, starting with an immediate $500 to assist in offsetting the cost of the trial board. Fines reached $500 per month for six months, then rose to $1,000 per month for six months and increased again to $1,500 per month for six months, and $2,000 per month thereafter.
In the first case of four members of the Mississauga, Ontario local who were working part time in our Halton Hills, Ontario local’s jurisdiction, all resigned. One member remains outstanding on his fines, and the local is now taking the matter to court for eventual collection.
The other case involved seven members of our Brampton, Ontario local who are “volunteer” (paid on call) fire fighters in our Caledon, Ontario local’s jurisdiction. Two charged members quit before getting to the trial board, leaving five members who again were found guilty and fined according to the scale described above. These members were represented by legal counsel sponsored by the Town of Caledon whose officials stated they will pay any fines if necessary. This has had considerable media attention throughout the duration of these charges which have gone through the appeal stages, and I expect will be heard at our convention in Seattle.
Centre of Excellence
In June 2017 I was able to organize a tour of our Centre for Ontario’s Minister of Labour with representatives from our workers’ compensation board, three of our progressive department’s administration and their corresponding local representatives’, and the President of the Ontario PFFA. We began by meeting the General President and ARS representative at the IAFF office. We then traveled to the centre and were provided a tour of the facility and made connections with staff there.
The visit opened the door for discussions between ARS and our workers’ compensation board to gain access to the centre for members from our district (and hopefully set the stage for Canada).
I am also working with Kingston Fire Chief Shawn Armstrong and the workers’ compensation board to hold a workshop about current services and programs that can assist our members in need. This will include a presentation on the IAFF Peer Support program and our Centre of Excellence. This workshop is scheduled for April 23 in Kingston.
IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial
With mixed emotions our district continues to add members to our walls of honour in Colorado Springs. I say mixed emotions as the number of honourees reached 21 in 2016 and 43 in 2017. Another 60 were identified for 2018. While I am very proud of our presumptive legislation and its retroactivity to allow for our members to get properly recognized, the sheer numbers are a sad reminder of the toll our job has taken on so many of our members.
Each year we capped off the event with a district family dinner to allow family members from the same geographic area to come together following the memorial in a relaxed atmosphere with good food. Participants can share their thoughts with others who have dealt with the same emotions. It has proven to be very successful and well received by all who attend.
2017 Canadian Policy Conference
I was very proud of my home Local Kingston L498 and their efforts to host our 2017 IAFF Canadian Policy Conference. My local showcased our beautiful city and provided wonderful hospitality for this event.
As you will note it has been very active across the district on many fronts. I was extremely proud of our affiliates and our provincial organizations for their continued high level of professionalism and dedicated representation for our members and their families.
This convention marks our union’s 100th anniversary, and I have been very humbled to work alongside the best union representatives across North America. I want to acknowledge our General President and General Secretary-Treasurer for their leadership and our unbelievable staff both at our Canadian office and our headquarters in Washington, DC. for their dedicated service. Without it we could not do our job in the manner our members expect and deserve.
As well I want to say thank you to my beautiful wife Jackie for her support and extend my appreciation to my colleagues on the executive board for their guidance and support.
I wish all the delegates. alternates and guests an enjoyable time at our Convention and while in Seattle.