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October 30, 2012
By Laura King


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Oct. 30, 2012, Toronto – Some light reading landed in my in box early this morning – the 4,500-word ruling by arbitrator Russell Goodfellow on a Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association (TPFFA) grievance claiming that the city breached its collective agreement by failing to fill 40 firefighter vacancies in 2011.

Oct. 30, 2012, Toronto – Some light reading landed in my in box early this morning – the 4,500-word ruling by arbitrator Russell Goodfellow on a Toronto Professional Fire Fighters Association (TPFFA) grievance claiming that the city breached its collective agreement by failing to fill 40 firefighter vacancies in 2011.

After five days of hearings over several months, Goodfellow determined that the city indeed breached article 49.01 of the agreement, which says a recruit class “would be initiated when vacancies in the workforce, created by death, retirement, resignation or discharge, reach 40.”

You’ll remember that in 2011 Toronto city departments – including police, fire and EMS – were asked to slash budgets, and there was a hiring freeze. The city argued that given the extreme fiscal pressure, it was not required to fill the vacancies, and that article 49.01 does not require it to initiate a recruit class, rather city management has discretion not to do so when circumstances warrant.

The city also argued that the management-rights clause in the agreement gives it the exclusive right to hire, and that the decision to hold a recruit class rests with the city manger rather than the fire chief.

Additionally, the city said that language in the agreement – the use of the phrase “would be” – reflects a desire, expectation or preference rather than an inevitability or certainty.

Further, Goodfellow noted in his decision, “the city argued that to find that a recruit class must be initiated in all circumstances, at considerable expense to the city, to say nothing of the time and commitment demanded of the recruits, could lead to absurd results. It could mean that, without the money to pay them, the city might be required to lay off some or all the recruits immediately after graduation.”

The arbitrator disagreed.

“I regret,” Goodfellow said, “that I am unable to accept the city’s interpretation. In my view, the association’s interpretation is the better one.”

There is a lot more to both sides’ arguments (the lengthy document was a bit tough to digest on only one cup of caffeine this morning!), but the arbitrator notes toward the end of his written decision that former Toronto Fire Service Chief Bill Stewart had, on several occasions, made the city manager aware of the 40 vacancies and the need to fill them so as not to breach the collective agreement. This section of the decision is worth reading:

“Although City Manager [Joe] Pennachetti testified that he had not, himself, read the firefighters’ collective agreement, it was clear that he had much else to read and think about. As the individual with ultimate responsibility to city council for maintaining the city’s fiscal health and achieving a balanced budget, the city manager testified in detail about the enormity of the fiscal challenges facing the city in 2011 and the various ways that he sought to deal with them. Preferring to avoid the possibility of layoffs – of putting existing employees out of work – the decision was made to institute a hiring freeze instead. And, Mr. Pennachetti emphasized, it was a freeze that extended well beyond fire services and included all aspects of the city’s operations. Indeed, other portions of the city, such as police and EMS, appear to have been impacted even more significantly than fire. Endeavouring to treat all city departments the same – equally, but equally difficultly, as the city manager put it – I could not have found that the city acted arbitrarily, discriminatorily or in bad faith. What I do find is that it acted contrary to the provisions of the firefighters’ agreement.”

TFS posted operational firefighting jobs in August. Candidates are writing aptitude tests starting Friday.

It has been a newsy week – and it’s only Tuesday. With the earthquake off of British Columbia on the weekend and another tremor last night, the furor over the response by provincial emergency management officials, and the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, it seems the world – or at least the emergency response world – has turned to Twitter.

Two years ago, I stood in front of an emergency management committee in a small town in Ontario and extolled the virtues of Twitter. There was a lot of skepticism and some arms-folded-in-that-defensive-position posturing. How could Twitter help their communities in a natural disaster, the committee members asked. Who would tweet if everyone is supposed to be responding? How would they ensure that accurate information got out?

All good questions, for sure. And all have certainly been answered in the last couple of days. FEMA chief Craig Fugate (@craigatFEMA) was one of the most prolific tweeters of the last 48 hours, pumping out details of the storm, contact information and response plans. Emergency management agencies across Ontario (@simcoecountyemc, @hastingsEMC), the Red Cross (@RedCrossTalk, @redcrosscanada), Get Prepared (@Get_Prepared) – Public Safety Canada’s 72-hour emergency plan – Hydro One (@HydroOne) and other utilities, Ontario Warnings (@OntarioWarnings) and dozens of other agencies provided details relevant to responders and to residents of affected areas – information far more targeted at people in the storm’s path than that given by all those wind-whipped CNN reporters standing knee-deep in floodwaters.

Presuming the storm passes and the weather returns to normal here in southwestern Ontario later this week, we’re looking forward to a great couple of days in Waterloo at the Fire Service Women Ontario conference and training session.

I’ll be there for Friday night’s opening with Fire Service Women Ontario president Carol-Lynn Chambers, Waterloo Fire Chief Lyle Quan and OAFC president Kevin Foster – both Fire Fighting in Canada columnists – Shayne Mintz from the OFM, OPFFA president Mark MacKinnon and FFAO president John Sheeringa.

FFIC sales manager Catherine Connolly joins us Saturday to emcee the technical showcase. Classroom sessions and hands-on training run all day Saturday.

You can find out more here, and we’ll keep you posted, naturally, through Twitter (@fireincanada)!

Meantime – shameless plug! – it’s prep time for the National Capital Special Operations Symposium (www.NCSOS.ca) in Ottawa, Nov. 14 and 15, at which I’m presenting on . . . Twitter!

It’s actually a two-part presentation with a really long title – How tweet it is, or is it? A journalist’s perspective on Canada’s response capabilities and the role of media in critical messaging about disaster response (whoever wrote that needs an editor!).

I’m very keen to hear keynote speaker Bill Pessemier, the former fire chief in Littleton, Colo., and the incident commander during the Columbine shootings, and Ottawa Police Insp. Mark Ford on the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots.

NCSOS is a collaboration among Ottawa Fire, the Ottawa Police Service and the Ottawa Paramedic Service. There are about 20 delegate spots left – and registration is extremely affordable! – so if you can get to the nation’s capital in mid-November (hey, I lived in Ottawa for 10 years – it’s still balmy in November!), click here to register and I’ll save you a seat!


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