CNL-deal a chance for Deep River fire to move past disputes

Image: Deal-signing ceremony between Deep River and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (credit: Town of Deep River).

Deep River’s game-changing deal with Canadian Nuclear Labs to operate our fire department will not only benefit both parties, it should help us get past the disputes covered in the North Renfrew Times (NRT) last week being fought out before a grievance arbitrator and the Ontario Labor Relations Board. In the proceedings reported, the union’s dismissal of democratic process is insulting to our community and specifically to the many who voted in the 2016 survey.

My remarks to the NRT are below. The resources I referred to are here:

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Congratulations to the Deep River Council for achieving a game-changing agreement with CNL to operate our fire department!

We’ll get better fire protection as a result of leveraging CNL’s expertise, and this cooperation also opens opportunities to get past some of the disputes about the department’s current operations.

The problems that have led to arbitration over union grievances, and to a hearing before the Ontario Labor Relations Board boil down to the union seeking protection for one thing: positions, not people.

Protection for the individual firefighters was not in dispute in either of the rounds of bargaining that ended up in arbitration in 2014 and 2017, because the town offered a “no lay-off” clause that would have enabled our fire fighters to serve out their careers.

The union’s position has been that a “minimum staffing” clause is needed instead, which would require the town to replace these individuals whenever they leave, thereby forcing the town to maintain firefighter positions in perpetuity.

Such a minimum staffing clause “protects the association,” as the president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA), Carmen Santoro, testified at the Friday hearing.

So its not about protecting people at all; its about self-perpetuation of an institution.

Society may tolerate self-interested behaviour to a point, but as oil producers, drug-makers and financiers are beginning to realize, profit-seeking at the expense of society results in a bad reputation that hurts them in the long-term.

So too, should the OPFFA realize that its insistence on maintaining a high number of positions in Deep River against the will and best interests of the residents will only hurt it in the long run.

Santoro’s dismissal of the referendum-format “survey” held in 2016 just adds to the damage to the union’s reputation.

More residents voted in the 2016 survey (36 percent, with 1255 responses) than in the 2011 by-election (25 percent).*

In 2016, 1255 residents, a very large and statistically significant sample, voted 9 to 1 against the fire protection model that the union is now trying to pressure to town to implement.

Furthermore, if supporters of the union’s position didn’t like how the town positioned the question, they had time to voice their opinions and influence the results.

The survey’s results are in fact a true reflection of an enduring community sentiment that goes back earlier than the 2010 election, when I campaigned on restructuring the fire department.

I knocked on every house in Deep River, and only found a handful of people who objected to changing to a volunteer fire department.

The council has a sufficient democratic mandate to shut the department down, if necessary, to get to a sustainable solution.

Fortunately, the deal just signed with CNL means that better solutions are now possible.

As the parties work together on a long-term partnership, no doubt they will consider the mutual benefits of merging the departments.

We wouldn’t be the first nuclear host community to be serviced by the same fire department as the nuclear facility: the Los Alamos Fire Department serves both the National Lab and the surrounding county.

Merging the departments might finally allow us to move beyond the limitations that have plagued our fire department for over 30 years.

And with nuclear-grade fire fighters ready to respond, we can forget about whether our guys were carrying pagers or not.

Documents referred to in this letter will be available on my blog: danielbanks.ca

Daniel Banks

former Deputy Mayor of Deep River, 2011-2014

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* The democratic legitimacy of the 2011 by-election (at 25 percent participation) was deemed enough not only to elect two Councillors (Katie Robertson, Ian Ingram), but two more runner-ups were later appointed to fill vacancies (Bob McLaren, and Ed Cochrane), largely because of their participation as candidates in the election.

Firefighters Appeal Cuts to Labor Relations Board

image: Arbitration hearing at the Deep River Library. Not pictured is the capacity crowd of interested Deep Riverites, as well as several firefighters from other communities (credit: Vance Gutzman, NRT Oct 18, 2017).

In a desperate attempt to force Deep River to double the present number of firefighters, the firefighters’ union has appealed to the Ontario Labor Relations Board, with public hearings to start today (Oct 13) in the library.

Our firefighters still haven’t gotten the message that our community wants and needs a composite fire fighting force that provides better safety in addition to being more cost-effective. The community’s vote of 89 percent in favor of seeking a reduction in the full-time staff to two and adding a large number of volunteers, has meant nothing to the union. Continue reading Firefighters Appeal Cuts to Labor Relations Board

Ontarians Burned by Firefighters

The dire situation of the Town’s ineffective fire department is attracting attention beyond Renfrew County. See CBC coverage:

This is not just a Deep River problem. All taxpayers in Ontario are being hurt by an arbitration system that ignores our interest; the difference is this the problem manifests itself in other ways elsewhere, notably in rapidly rising compensation packages and minimum staffing clauses that prevent municipalities from using layoffs or attrition to manage costs. Continue reading Ontarians Burned by Firefighters

Why can’t the people choose their fire protection service?

The Pembroke observer reports the continuing fear-mongering by the firefighter’s union:

“Travelling in teams of five throughout town, the [firefighters] group handed out cards stating how town council has recently cut the number of its firefighters in half, and changes in the work schedule means the fire hall is closed 75 per cent of the time.”
September 9, 2017, http://www.thedailyobserver.ca/2017/09/09/deep-river-in-dispute-with-fire-dept

I sent the following letters to the Observer and NRT in response.

Why can’t the people choose their fire protection service? Continue reading Why can’t the people choose their fire protection service?

DR cuts fire protection while union fails to provide professional service

On July 13, 2107, the Deep River Fire Chief released a damning report on the irresponsible behaviour of our “professional” firefighters, who object to wearing pagers and pressure each other not to receive training.

The Fire Chief’s report reveals that these factors, in addition to the failure of the arbitration system to provide any relief to the exorbitant costs of our ineffective fire protection service, were a few of the reasons for the Town’s decision to allow the firefighting staff to be reduced to 5, and to place them all on a single shift to facilitate supervision. Continue reading DR cuts fire protection while union fails to provide professional service

DR Fire Arbitration Result

The Arbitration result between Deep River and its fire fighters over the matter of the whether the town can implement the model that right for it, has recently been released to the public in late June, 2017. You can read the arbitrator’s full decision here.

The arbitrator ignored the democratically and strongly expressed opinion of the people of Deep River. He denied Deep River any relief, while continuing a tradition of awarding pay raises well above most other public sector workers.

My commentary published in the NRT in July 2017: Continue reading DR Fire Arbitration Result