6th District Vice President
In accordance with the provisions of Article V1, Section 3, of the International Association of Fire Fighters Constitution and By-Laws, I respectfully submit this report of my activity as the 6th District Vice President to General President Harold Schaitberger, General Secretary-Treasurer Thomas H. Miller, the IAFF Executive Board and all officers and delegates in attendance at the 52nd Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. This report contains a summary of my activities from September 2012 through to April 2014. I have attended all Executive Board meetings and carried out all assignments given me by General President Schaitberger.
During this reporting period I have also been appointed by the General President to serve on the following committees: Human Relations (Chair), Canadian Affairs (Vice Chair), Legal Services, Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, Information and Technology and Policy and Operational Procedures. In addition, at the direction of General President Schaitberger, I have served as a trustee on the IAFF Foundation. I have attended all committee meetings and fulfilled all duties required of me by virtue of these assignments. I have had the opportunity to travel to each of the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as the Northwest and Yukon territories working in support of our 79 affiliates within the 6th District on numerous occasions. I have also successfully reached out to those not affiliated in an effort to organize the unorganized fire fighters within the District.
I have responded to every inquiry and service request by a local affiliate or member in the 6th District in a timely manner to the best of my ability. I have also attended all of the provincial conventions since my election, as well as all of the Canadian Provincial Presidents meetings, the Provincial Executive Board meetings, provincial regional meetings and both national and provincial legislative conferences, when schedules permitted. I have also attended the Redmond Symposium, Human Relations Conference, EMS Conference, Affiliate Leadership Training Summits, Labour Management Initiative and the Fallen Fire Fighters Memorials and have represented the 6th District at far too many members’ funeral services this term.
At the last Convention, I reported that all of the provinces and territories in the 6th District had succeeded in establishing or improving fire fighter cancer presumptions or adding additional cancers. Since that time, we continue to make gains in additional presumptions and gain occupational health and safety regulations that improve fire fighters’ physical, mental and emotional health care. I continue to work with all regions to assist them in advancing further gains, develop stronger lobby, political action and community relations efforts, to share and communicate research information and success to all. All provinces and territories in the 6th District have conservative governments, making their successes all the more significant. Across the District, affiliates have embraced the IAFF non-partisan political action strategy and contributions to the Canadian IAFF FIREPAC continue to set record highs for the 6th District, with Saskatchewan and Alberta having a 100% dues check-off for affiliates. In addition the majority of the 52 affiliates in British Columbia also contribute in a dues check-off to FIREPAC. Bargaining continues to be an uphill battle throughout the region, only made worse by the dramatic shift to the right by politicians who, not only targeting public sector workers in general but in some cases, specifically targeting fire fighters, hard-bargained for collective agreements. Our IAFF affiliate and provincial leadership have proven up to the challenge and continue to prepare for the next employers’ collective assault on our wages and working conditions.
As in other Districts, our affiliates find themselves defending service levels, health care benefits and pensions. Yet despite these and other ongoing and persistent challenges, I am convinced the IAFF leadership throughout the 6th District is ready and prepared to meet all challenges. In spite of facing greater challenges than ever before, from employer groups that are more coordinated in the past, the resolve and strength of leadership and the tenacity of our affiliates in the 6th District have never been stronger. These challenges have brought out the best in our leaders.
The economies of Canada’s western provinces, which make up the 6th District, continue to be strong and should provide a great opportunity for our locals to grow, strengthen their collective agreements and provide improvements to the safety and wellness of our fire fighters, despite the attacks from the right. However, there remain regional pockets where the economic decline hit very hard. Although these areas are stable, our affiliates in those regions will continue to have greater challenges than the rest of the 6th District. Some of the struggles, successes, good work and extraordinary accomplishments throughout the 6th District are briefly detailed below.
The British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Association (BCPFFA) continues to maintain 100% affiliation from our 53 affiliates within British Columbia and the Yukon (Whitehorse, Local 2217). At the last convention, British Columbia reported adding esophageal cancer as a WCB presumption. They have now restored the heart presumption in its original form. This has been a significant challenge and a high priority for the BCPFFA since the heart presumption was repealed June 5, 2000. Despite the right-wing conservative direction of the liberal government, BCPFFA President Mike Hurley and our B.C. affiliates have successfully built a relationship with Premier Christy Clark and the majority of her caucus, while also maintaining the support of the opposition party, the labor-supportive NDP. This has proven to be very critical in representing our members in British Columbia, when Christy Clark defied all polls and swept to a third majority for the liberals. All polls had been predicting a labor (NDP) victory, which was not to be, despite corporate B.C. leaving the liberals in droves. The BCPFFA managed to build even stronger support in government as a result of their very successful strategy during the election.
There continues to be a strong employer lobby for legislative changes that will tip the arbitration process more to the favor of the employer than it already is. To date, the BCPFFA’s relationship with the government has been able to hold off any such revisions, however, they must remain vigilant. Despite a continued lobby by employer groups to reduce pension, the BCPFFA has managed a very effective province-wide strategy to achieve pension improvements. The employer’s collaborative strategy to put pressure on our affiliates at the bargaining table has been the cause of great frustration for our B.C. affiliates, with six affiliates still without an agreement since 2009 and the remaining since 2011, with one exception. Nonetheless, BCPFFA’s response has been equally as strong and coordinated, and is beginning to produce results. Their patience and coordinated bargaining efforts have produced better agreements than interest boards where the agreements have been achieved and recently one agreement through 2019 that moves fire fighters’ base rate to what it should be, given the cost of living in British Columbia. The longer range agreements will bring B.C. fire fighters’ wages and benefits into the higher range nationally.
BCPFFA’s success at bargaining has shown vision and long-term strategic thinking in coordinating their wage parity approach, not to mention extraordinary patience from our members. We continue to assist the BCPFFA with bargaining and other work as requested. Organizing in British Columbia has taken a backseat to the bargaining and pension challenges over the past few years. The BCPFFA is at the early stages of the national EMS strategy, and gaining ground in the public debate over the provincial ambulance service. As a result of a strategic effort in building out from IAFF-friendly municipal councils, the BCPFFA appears to be winning the public relations campaign over the B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) for the first time in decades.
The BCPFFA Burn Fund continues to work on their research and education facility directed by Dr. Aziz Ghary, an acknowledged world-leader in the treatment of burns and wounds. The BCPFFA Burn and Wound Healing Research Laboratory at Vancouver General Hospital is nearing its sod-turning date with funding for the $13.5 million building nearly complete. The BCPFFA hopes to begin the construction before the end of the year. The BCPFFA Burn Fund is a North American leader in support of fire fighters, burn survivors, and prevention. The B.C. Fire Fighters’ Memorial was unveiled on the grounds of the legislature in February 2013. The memorial is another product of the BCPFFA’s successful non-partisan political action strategy.
Congratulations to President Mike Hurley and his Board for the success they have had on many fronts, building strong relationships on both sides of the Legislature and growing the service to their now 53 affiliates. The BCPFFA continues to be a significant player on all fronts in the province, and mentoring a dozen new affiliates to represent their members well. I am confident that the BCPFFA and their affiliates have the leadership necessary to face the coming years and handle the challenges ahead.
The Alberta Fire Fighters’ Association (AFFA) began holding an annual Legislative Conference before last Convention, which has ramped up their presence in provincial government circles. They have very quickly built successful relationships with many of the government staff and have increased their number of friendly M.L.A.s in government. At the last Convention, we reported that Premier Ed Stelmach had been struggling and was replaced by Allison Redford, who was facing an election that expected to end the 41-year reign of the Progressive Conservative party in government. To everyone’s surprise, the upstart Wildrose Party’s support collapsed, and Redford cruised to a majority 12th consecutive Progressive Conservative government. Two years later, she is struggling, as much or more, than Ed Stelmach and has resigned. The AFFA played a role in Redford’s rise to leadership and is again, positioning to be a strategic player in the leadership race. Unfortunately, the Redford government has begun attacking labor, including fire fighters, in a desperate bid to steal away support from the Wildrose Party — an upstart anti-union reform political group — out of fear of losing government. The AFFA is making good headway in building relationships with potential Progressive Conservative leadership candidates, but it is too early to say how much success they will have. The leadership race is looking somewhat muddied at this point, with no early strong leadership contenders.
The new leader, Premier by default, will face dealing with the turmoil Premier Redford left behind. Most important of those issues is an attack on public sector pensions. The Redford regime tabled legislation to dramatically reduce public sector pensions. The AFFA assembled a very experienced team of IAFF affiliate leadership and outside expert consultants to respond to the challenge. Prior to the leadership change, they began gaining some traction and continue to work with senior staff in government to carve our fire fighters into a stand-alone pension plan. The AFFA has also participated with the Alberta Federation of Labour’s efforts and remains in solidarity with labor. The leadership race has not slowed changes to the pension. The AFFA is the only public sector union that has been given access to government’s senior staff to meet over pension regulations. It is still unclear where the pension plan will end in the final analysis, but the early drafts expose the public sector plans for the possibility of a transition to a defined contribution or target benefit plan, at the whim of government. Government has attempted to rationalize the changes within the legislation speaking to a manufactured underfunding that is now being reported by actuaries as soon to be eliminated, despite the over-inflated math. We are all hopeful that may assist the AFFA in their continued lobby efforts to protect their defined benefit plan.
The past two years has not been all bad. The AFFA was successful in achieving legislative changes to permit 24-hour shifts. Four locals have now achieved the 24-hour shift in their collective agreements. This became a significant issue with the organizing of new Local 4778, Airdrie who were already working 24-hour shifts. Bargaining their first agreement led them to arbitration and exposed the hours of work as requiring a special permit. The local was successful in defending the hours of work before in interest arbitration. The AFFA was also successful in achieving a presumptive WCB recognition for PTSD and the AFFA has worked closely with professionals in the field to develop functional application of the benefit.
Alberta continues to be a challenge in organizing new IAFF affiliates, with the Labour Board supporting part-time fire fighters. The Board requires where there are part-time workers, they must also be included in the IAFF local. This has proven challenging at times and as a result organizing new IAFF locals in Alberta has slowed considerably. The challenges have been many and have been the cause of delays in achieving first agreements; in some cases, taking four years or more, and requiring lengthy and costly mediation and arbitration. Although we were able to add the first of six new affiliates in late 2009, we still remain with one of the six, without a first agreement, Okotoks Local 4829. We have had to defend two of these first agreements against Judicial Review and in one affiliate, Rocky View County Local 4794, two Guardian cases, and multiple Labour Board, WCB and Employment Standards complaints all of which, our affiliates have prevailed.
The Local 4794, Rocky View County file has been an extreme case of an employer taking on the IAFF and targeting our affiliate membership vengefully for their audacity to unionize. Three consecutive Local 4794 Presidents have been terminated or laid-off since certification. With the assistance of the IAFF guardian policy, we have recently struck an agreement at the Labour Board that will essentially have the employer on probation until August 31st. Two Local 4794 Presidents have returned to work and the third has moved on, but was compensated for the grief the employer had caused him. As part of the LRB agreement, we also have their first agreement in place through to the end of 2015. Local 4794 is permitted to serve notice to end the LRB agreement for any reason up to August 31. There remain seven members in lay-off we are hopeful will be recalled during that time frame. Local 4794’s troubles are far from over, but it appears, we may have some stability there for the first time with the hiring of a new Fire Chief, Deputy Chief and District Chief that come with IAFF experience. At the time of the LRB hearings, there were 757 outstanding grievances, which have also been resolved if the agreement remains beyond the employer probation period.
The reported transfer of the ambulance authority and responsibility to the regional health authorities has been very challenging for our Alberta affiliates. However, we are beginning to see a degree of stability that may sustain itself for a few years now. A few of the integrated affiliates have lost ambulance services, but the remaining integrated affiliates have recently been able to maintain ambulance services with renewed longer term contracts that include renewal clauses with the Health Authority. We are also beginning to see those that lost ambulance service looking to move back into providing ambulances or at least increase the role of their fire fighters in pre-hospital care. The move to regionalize dispatch service that followed close on the heels of the creation of a provincial paramedic service has temporarily been put on hold, and we are hopeful IAFF affiliates will be able to maintain their dispatch centres.
The employer’s bargaining around Alberta has been coordinated better than ever and has employer’s working hard together for the first time. Their efforts have been driven to suppress firefighter’s wage gains, since our affiliates began having some success. The Alberta economy is on fire, and our 15 of our 17 affiliates have now moved into the highest wages nationally. Although we began to see the wage disparity between most AFFA affiliates has narrowed to within approximately $1,500; it is has recently began growing again, with the employer’s efforts having some success. Fort McMurray Local 2494 continues to stand alone in the unique situation of being able to rely on the oil industry driven economy of the tar sands to get their wage rate much higher than the rest. As we head into convention they have achieved a three year agreement to 2016 which will bring first class rates to far and away the highest nationally. Outside of Local 2494, our new Leduc affiliate Local 4739 set the high bar with their first agreement in 2013 and since then two other affiliates were able to move the 2014 rate slightly higher, before the employer’s coordinated efforts began having some effect. Calgary, Local 255 our District’s largest Local at over 1300 members continues to work at improving labour relations and has just received an arbitration award that narrowed the disparity with police to within 1%, from a long history of 3%. This was their 8th consecutive arbitration. The Alberta wage gains have begun to have influence across provincial borders as larger cities in British Columbia and Saskatchewan have been able to look to Alberta wage trends to support their own bargaining argument.
Canmore Local 4705 was organized as the first new local in Alberta since 1982 prior to last Convention. As a result of the pressures to divest of their ambulance services, the town reduced our full-time membership down to three. Over the past year we have been able to restore staffing to 11 and achieve their second collective agreement. The other new locals in Alberta have also struggled to achieve a first agreement. With 100% affiliation, the new locals and significant growth throughout our affiliates, AFFA membership is now over 3,800, up another 100 members since last Convention’s gain of 300.
Congratulations to President Craig Macdonald and his Board for the success they have had on many fronts, despite facing many significant challenges simultaneously. I am confident that the AFFA and their affiliates have the leadership necessary to face the coming years, handle the challenges facing them and assist with mentoring the new locals to the same success as our veteran affiliates.
Although the Saskatchewan Professional Fire Fighters’ Association (SPFFA) had begun to build a relationship with the new far-right thinking Sask Party government, it appears the mood to go after labor has now swept over Saskatchewan as it has throughout the IAFF. The SPFFA now find themselves defending their right to arbitration and standing with the Federation of Labour against a number of attacks on workers’ rights. The sad irony is the strongest civic lobby to remove the right to arbitration has come from the smallest communities where fire fighters are among the lowest paid, nationally. These affiliates have all but never utilized the arbitration process in their history. Bill 85, in its initial draft, set out to deny fire fighters in communities with less than 20,000 residents the right to arbitration and merge all employment standards, including the Fire Department-specific legislation. The communities have been clear; they believe our members are not essential public safety workers. This is nothing more than an attempt to deliver the service with volunteers.
Despite the Saskatchewan Party facing some scandal since winning their first election, they continue to poll as the most popular government in Canada. The booming resource sector has assisted in providing the lowest unemployment rate in Canada despite having among the highest immigration. The province of Saskatchewan continues with the economic boom that began prior to last Convention, despite some resource-specific sectors collapsing, such as potash mining. The slow turn-around in the world’s economy since 2010 has been anything but slow in Saskatchewan. The prairie’s rich bounty of resources, with new discoveries each year, appears to insulate the province well today. Despite this economic strength, population growth and low unemployment, most of our affiliates struggle to achieve collective agreements.
The disparity between, “the haves and the have nots”, is alarming. Of our nine affiliates, only two have been able to achieve voluntary renewed collective agreements. Regina Local 181 has achieved a voluntary agreement through 2015 that provided the highest wage rate nationally, until it was surpassed by Alberta affiliates. The irony is that it is the first voluntary agreement in Regina since 1998. Saskatoon Local 80 followed soon after with an agreement through 2016 moving the rate slightly higher, while our EMS Local 3270, Saskatoon Ambulance, without the right to arbitration was faced with taking a strike vote in order to pressure their employer into an agreement. Our other six affiliates have not been able to achieve an agreement since 2012, despite the fact that they remain significantly lower paid and in some cases among the lowest paid in the nation. Weyburn Local 2989 was required to achieve a three year agreement from an Interest Arbitration Board. Despite being a significant award of over 18%, they remain a full 42% behind the other known rates in Saskatchewan. The remaining five other Locals are facing a challenge to get their employers to an arbitration Board. Two of the employers have taken our affiliates first to court and when not successful, to the Labour Board to prevent them from accessing arbitration process in place. These actions are merely a very transparent attempt to delay proceedings long enough to see Bill 85 given Royal Assent and which may then preclude the affiliates from accessing arbitration all together.
Saskatchewan affiliates became the first provincial association in Canada to enact 100% dues check-off for IAFF FIREPAC Canada in 2006, led by Saskatoon Local 80, the first local to do so in 2005, which they continue to maintain to this day. Not long after the election that changed government, the Sask Party announced an Emergency Medical Services Review. Not much to date has come of this review but it hangs over our District’s lone paramedic Local, 3270, Saskatoon Ambulance, and continues to be a concern. As a private EMS provider, Local 3270’s employer is dependent on provincial government funding. With the fiscal right direction of the Sask Party any real increases in funding have proven very hard to come by. Nonetheless Local 3270, continues to be very tenacious and politically astute in their efforts at lobbying government in support of their service delivery model and wage and benefit concern. They continue to also work at increasing their pension benefit options as well.
The SPFFA continues to maintain an increased EDF per capita to provide the smaller locals in Saskatchewan the opportunity to fund interest arbitrations to achieve renewed collective agreements, if we are able to get them before an Interest Board. We continue to work closely with the SPFFA and our affiliates to narrow the wage disparity in the province. Congratulations to SPFFA President Kirby Benning and his provincial executive for their success since last Convention. Despite the Sask Party political paradigm and SPFFA concerns over Bill 85, President Benning has managed to continue to build a relationship with select senior ministers and staff of the legislature. I am confident that the SPFFA and their affiliate leadership are up to the challenges they face in the coming years.
The Yukon and Northwest territories continue to evolve from a frontier to a more sophisticated provincial government environment. With only one affiliate in each of the Yukon and North West territories, and as remote as they are, our affiliate leadership has never been stronger and better connected. The level of dues funding that members provide their locals has permitted the two northern locals to be fully engaged. Yellowknife Local 2890 continues to improve their lot since the multiple line-of-duty deaths of members Cyril Fyfe and Kevin Olson in 2005. Although this progress had been hindered by the revolving door in the Chief’s office, recent stability in both the Chief’s office and senior city staff has assisted their progress. In the last round the local won a significant decision from the Labour Board ordering the employer to the bargaining table when they refused to bargain. This may have had some influence over the result as they have achieved in their third voluntary collective agreement in a row and have landed their wage rates within the leading rates of Western Canadian for 2015.
Whitehorse, Local 2217 our only Yukon affiliate has developed very strong leadership and is beginning to see significant gains as a result. Just short of facing their fifth arbitration in recent years, they managed to achieve their first voluntary agreement in twenty years. The agreement was through 2013 and incrementally moved them within the wage range of other Western Canada affiliates. Back at the table, just ahead of convention they have managed to again achieve a voluntary agreement to take them the rest of the way there and beyond. With signing an eight year agreement through 2021, Whitehorse has now set very good lead wage rates nationally. Only a few short years they were faced with a station closure, and among the lowest wages in the country. We continue to work with the Local in attempting to establish a defined benefit pension plan for Local 2217; the only significant piece that remains yet to gain. Local 2217 leadership is very strong and the membership has a strong solidarity. Our past-President Brian Fedoriak is recovering well and back at work, from being the first firefighter to benefit for from the recently enacted WCB Cancer Presumptions.
In closing I would like to thank all of the affiliates for the support during the start of my third term, it is truly a humbling experience and an honour to serve you as your Vice President. I look forward to your continued support. I would like to thank the IAFF staff for the help, assistance and their amazing work ethic. It truly amazes me how productive this dedicated group of people are every day. Finally I would like to thank General President Schaitberger for his leadership and General Secretary-Treasurer Miller for his. I wish all the delegates a productive convention and thank the host, Local 48, Cincinnati, Ohio, for their hospitality at the 52nd biennial IAFF Convention.