Fire Fighting in Canada

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Movin’ on up can present new challenges

March 17, 2010

I read with great interest this week that Scott Marks, the president of
Toronto's Local 3888, has accepted the position of assistant to the general president (AGP) for Canadian operations of the IAFF. This represents a tremendous career opportunity for Scott and validates the outstanding work he has done as local president. In his letter to the membership announcing his pending resignation, Scott mentioned that he will be “available to assist Local 3888 in finalizing the current round of negotiations no matter what the circumstances.” I'd like to focus on that as I believe that the history of labour/management relations under his tenure will prove to be Scott's strongest legacy.

March 17, 2010 
By Peter Sells

Of course, contract negotiations are a
team effort but the union president and the fire chief (and the relationship
between them) set the overall tone and strategy. In this era of tight budgets,
a common result of contract negotiations, at least in Ontario, is for
firefighters to receive an arbitrated award and a settlement of back pay,
sometimes three or five years in arrears. The City of Toronto and Local 3888 were able to negotiate two consecutive three-year
contracts. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Firefighters, particularly
those nearing retirement, have greater peace of mind with respect to their
personal finances and job security, which fit into the safety/security level of
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Addressing those needs allows firefighters to take
on higher-level issues such as professional 
achievement and problem solving (you see, this stuff actually has
practical application). From the city's perspective, operating budgets can be
planned and anticipated with much greater accuracy. The time saved and the collaborative
environment that is created allow both parties to focus on their respective
roles in moving the organization forward in a safe and effective manner.

Scott's new role involves a great deal of
political savvy and professional acumen, both of which he possesses in good
measure. I believe Scott's greatest challenge will be applying his successful,
collaborative leadership style across a wider spectrum. Many locals and many
municipalities across Canada have approached labour/management relations as a
zero-sum, win/lose proposition in which success is often measured by the
failure of the other party to reach its (usually financial) goals, rather than
in the mutual achievement of common long-term organizational objectives. If
Scott can foster a philosophy of co-operation within the broader Canadian
unionized fire service membership, that will be a feather in his cap.

Congratulations, Scott, and may you enjoy
continued success as you move forward.

Blog questions: How important is it to
achieve a negotiated contract? Does it matter to the average firefighter? Do
arbitrated awards achieve the same or better outcomes?


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