Wade Ritchie was back in front of the Manitoba Labour Board on Friday, this time as president of the Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association.
Ritchie was in his familiar role as president of the union after being reinstated by the same board less than a month ago following his termination by the City of Brandon in January. This time, however, Ritchie was presenting two grievances on behalf of the union against the city.
The first day of the hearing, which is expected to last three days, was dominated by testimony from union secretary Scott Hemstad, as Garth Smorang, lawyer for the union, and Grant Mitchell, lawyer for the city, asked pointed questions regarding the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the city.
The union is arguing that the city broke two clauses in the collective bargaining agreement during the process of hiring a new lieutenant for the fire department in Brandon. The union says the city allowed a person into the hiring process that contractually didn’t meet the requirements of the posted position and that Terry Parlow — who was hired as a result of the changes in the requirements — doesn’t meet the requirements to be a lieutenant under the CBA.
In the 1996 CBA, Hemstad said there was a change in the agreement between the two sides that created a stepping stone promotional structure within the ranks.
Due to a concern over the possibility of a training officer winning the job of a captain, the union created a system that would only allow officers to be promoted one step in the command structure. Captain positions could only be filled by lieutenants, lieutenants could only be filled by acting second-lieutenants, and acting-second lieutenants could only be filled by acting-first lieutenants.
“There was a desire for people to work their way up through the ranks laid out in the collective agreement,” Hemstad said. “If a training officer applied for the captain’s job and was successful, there was a concern that he would be taking a giant leap ahead of more experienced people in the department who had been working their way through the rank structure.”
Ironically it was Parlow who was the president of the union when the changes were instituted.
“Our president, Terry Parlow, was very vocal that people should work their way up through the ranks of the officers and not move from a training officer to a captainship,” Hemstad said.
When the vacant position of lieutenant couldn’t be filled by any of the acting-second lieutenants because of a failure during the interview process by one candidate and the fact the other three eligible acting-second lieutenants didn’t have the necessary educational requirements to fill the position, the city reposted the job.
But it added the ability to “underfill” the position, meaning it would open the position to other officers below the acting-second lieutenants.
On Nov. 22, three members of the union and three members of the city met to discuss how to solve the problem. The union requested the city relax the requirements to allow all four acting-second lieutenants to apply while the city countered with a compromise that would relax the requirements if the acting-first lieutenant were included in the hiring process. At the meeting, Hemstad said he told fire Chief Brent Dane that allowing the acting-first lieutenants into the process would create bad morale within the hall.
Hemstad said the proposal was discussed at the union’s Dec. 7 meeting, during which the membership unanimously decided that the hiring process must stay within the CBA guidelines, but that course requirements could be negotiated separately.
The city, which now had two lieutenant positions vacant, again went through the hiring process — this time relaxing the requirements and allowing the active-first lieutenants to apply without the union’s consent. This time, all four active-second lieutenants applied and one active-first lieutenant applied. The city selected one of the active-second lieutenants and Parlow, an active-first lieutenant.
The city’s lawyer pointed out that there had been situations in the past where the collective bargaining agreement had been circumvented to fill a position.
The city has hired fire inspectors externally in the past because there wasn’t a qualified candidate from within the fire department.
Mitchell asked Hemstad if there had been any grievance about the fact the CBA’s guidelines were not followed.
“We didn’t have anybody apply for it so nobody was complaining that they were getting passed over,” Hemstad said.
The hearing continues today. It is expected Dane and Parlow will take the stand.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 7, 2012