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Earlier this year I wrote about the attempt made by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) to organize the volunteer firefighters of the Sudbury Fire Department. I drew a comparison between the situation faced by volunteer firefighters in many parts of Canada and the schtick of the late, great Rodney Dangerfield. Essentially, volunteers do not get the respect they deserve.  Within their communities, yes, they are the heroes and leaders that are looked up to in exactly the same way as their brothers and sisters in career departments.  But when it comes to recognition within the greater fire service, volunteers are often unfairly regarded as second-class citizens.

May 13, 2009
By Peter Sells

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I feel that this is about to
change. The RWDSU has been T-C-B (taking care of business, for those of you too
young to remember Aretha Franklin or Bachman Turner Overdrive).

The City of Sudbury was able
to buy some time, through some creative tactics.  According to the RWDSU website, Sudbury
employees were paid thousands of dollars in overtime to hand-deliver a document
outlining the City’s position to all 300 firefighters, along with a promise of
two hours’ pay to attend any organization vote. These actions
caused
the union to pull its application until such time as the city agrees to cease
its “interference in this organizing drive and not waste taxpayers’ dollars
trying to influence the outcome of the vote.”

"I
think it’s unfortunate that the city has to resort to these methods,"
stated Derik McArthur, Canadian Director of the RWDSU. "In all of our
organizing drives, I’ve never heard of unscheduled employees being paid to
vote. I have to ask the city if they will extend this to the full-time
firefighters when they vote on their next agreement or the rest of the
unionized city employees. If the city is this generous with the taxpayers’
dollars maybe they’ll pay the citizens to vote as well during the next
municipal election."

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So
there is no final resolution at present in
Sudbury.
However, it appears that the word got out. Over the past few months, RWDSU has fielded
numerous calls from across the province from various volunteer/paid-on-call
departments after it announced Local 431 has been dedicated for volunteer
firefighters. This month, volunteers in Petawawa voted overwhelmingly to
unionize under the RWDSU banner. 

According
to McArthur, “We are witnessing the beginning of a ‘snowball effect’.  The Petawawa group contacted us, had done all
their homework, downloaded all of our materials from the website and when our
organizer went to meet with them, it was a ‘where do we sign?’ meeting.  I'm hoping this continues, as strength comes
in numbers.”

So I must congratulate the RWDSU on its progress to
date. And I will repeat from my earlier piece: it is the union’s stated
intention to
pick up additional members
around
Ontario and across Canada. The potential membership base of volunteer firefighters
is much larger than the number of existing career firefighters. Lesser dues
notwithstanding, volunteer firefighters could have a greater political voice a
few years down the road than career firefighters do now. 

So, here is your blog
question: If there were a vibrant and politically powerful unionized volunteer
fire service in Canada, what would that look like, exactly?  Where would that leave initiatives such as
the Volunteer Firefighters Employment Protection Act (or Emergency Volunteers
Protection Act or Volunteer Fire Services Act, depending on your province)?

And frankly, would the public
that we all serve look at us differently than they do now, or would we all
still be sharing their R-E-S-P-E-C-T as we T-C-B?


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