Editor's blog

Laura King
January 19, 2017
Written by
Jan. 19, 2017, Toronto -  It’s complicated, this two-hatter issue. But the gist of it is this: an American-based trade union is denying its members the freedom that other Canadians have to work and do what they want in their spare time – build decks, plow snow, fix plumbing, be volunteer/part-time firefighters in their home communities.
The union – the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – on Monday tried four of its members who work full time in Mississauga, Ont., and also work part time¬ in Halton Hills, a community northwest of Toronto with a composite fire department.

The IAFF constitution prohibits secondary employment – it forbids firefighters from working part time in another union shop (as firefighters, paramedics or public-safety officers), and members who do so are disciplined for violating an oath. Oddly, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association allows, by its own count, about 1,000 of its members to work as paramedics, without reprisal.

Monday’s session ¬– an internal trial board hearing ¬– was closed; Mississauga’s past union president Mark Train, who sometimes represents the union in legal matters, declined to discuss details, saying the process has not concluded and, “as such I will not comment on the matter.”

The hearing started and ended Monday but the trial board has a period of time during which to mete out penalties. One of the four firefighters on trail admitted to violating the IAFF constitution and resigned Monday night from the Halton Hills Fire Department.

The penalty being considered for the other firefighters is a $1,000 initial fine followed by monthly levies of $500, and another $500 for every six months during which the part-time activities continue – a fairly blunt deterrent.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the union would revoke the two-hatters’ memberships, thereby potentially affecting their full-time jobs; most collective agreements require municipalities to employ only firefighters who are associatin members, and the IAFF has pressed towns and cities to terminate firefighters who have been dismissed from the union.

The Halton Hills firefighters represented themselves at Monday’s hearing – legal counsel was not provided; in fact, the municipality is eliminating two-hatters through attrition, and has declined to hire two hatters for its part-time roster since 2011 in anticipation of union action.

That’s in contrast to Caledon, Ont., a large, composite department with 22 unionized career firefighters and more than 250 volunteers. Some Brampton firefighters who work part time in Caledon received letters from their locals in the fall, making it clear that there would be repercussions if they continued to respond to calls as two-hatters. Some two-hatters handed in their pagers but the issue is ongoing. Town of Caledon management is supporting the two-hatters and providing legal counsel.

And that may lead to the test of Bill 109, which was introduced by the governing Liberals and passed in 2016; it amended Ontario’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act to include a non-discrimination clause meant to ensure that full-time firefighters can also work part time in their smaller, home communities.

But there’s politics at play. Ontario’s IAFF members, of course, roundly backed Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals during the 2014 provincial election; if Bill 109 is, indeed, tested, and holds up to scrutiny, that sea of support could evaporate.

While the IAFF is American-based, the two-hatter issue arises only if charges are laid by a member of the offending firefighter’s home local, or by someone else affected by the two-hatting activity. I’m at a bit of a loss to understand how unionized firefighters in Mississauga are affected by their colleagues’ part-time employment in Halton Hills, but maybe I’m missing something.

And, in what seems to be a conflicting philosophy, the OPFFA’s fire-paramedic proposal would allow members who are both firefighters and paramedics to administer symptom relief to patients at medical calls; critics claim the plan is simply a way to ensure firefighter jobs.

Read between the lines.


+1 #3 Chris Vanderburg 2017-01-28 21:13
I believe it is important that experienced firefighters be allowed to offer their services in their home community. Two-hatters have played a vital role in the volunteer fire service, especially in communities that don't have the resources to support full time firefighters. Is the issue really about interfering with an individual's freedom to do what they please in their off time? Would it be fair to say that the intent of this clause in the IAFF constitution is to protect the integrity of the association itself? If a municipality with IAFF members allows trained and experienced members from other locals to come and volunteer in the same department, would municipality administrators not learn to exploit that over time...therefor e undermining the purpose and strength of the association itself? I have good friends on both sides of this issue and am conflicted with where I stand, but I don't believe that the IAFF denies the freedom of two-hatters who volunteer in non-IAFF communities.
-1 #2 Dave Christopher 2017-01-20 12:30
The issue is not how it affects FF's in a large municipality but in smaller ones - why would council hire sufficient full-time for at least a four man crew when they can get cheap labour; the same holds true for smaller centres trying to negotiate contracts - why pay when you can get cheap labour.
At the end of the day councils need to pay a fair wage for full and part-time workers not try to do an end run with two-hatters who are working for less than minimum wage.
+1 #1 Chris 2017-01-19 11:59
So when is the IAFF going to start doing this in the USA? The vast majority of volunteer departments in the states have two haters also from large departments like FDNY, Washington,Chic ago, Baltimore etc. I have visited a few in the Maryland/Virgin ia area were full time firefighters from big city's near by are also volunteers in there local community. I guess they are too scared to try it down in the states, so they come up here and bully the two hatters to quit.
I am surprised these towns/city's that this has affected have not joined together and started a class action suit against the IAFF. Take it to the courts and challenge them on it.

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