The new president of Brandon’s firefighters union says he hopes this is the "start of a new beginning" for the union and the City of Brandon.
Terry Browett was elected president of the Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association earlier this week.
"My hope for the union is if we can bring both sides together and start to do a bit more collaboration on ideas, solving of issues, understanding both sides’ perspectives, and come to some middle ground," he said. "That’s what I’ll be trying to bring to the table, through dialogue and talking things out."
Browett, who has been a firefighter in Brandon for the past 20 years, says low morale among members made him want to put his name forward for the job.
"I think over the years, I’ve never seen morale as low as it is," Browett said. "I just want to play a part in trying to hopefully improve that, and bring together some kind of unity between the two groups, whether I can do that or not … it’s a new face, hopefully a new beginning, and we can make relations better."
Browett was elected for a two-year term. He takes over from Wade Ritchie, who was union president for the past four years.
It was a rocky road for Ritchie, who was dismissed by the city in 2012, only to be reinstated a few months later. Ritchie won the arbitration case after filing a grievance with the Manitoba Labour Board.
Meanwhile, the contract dispute between the union and the city has dragged on since 2011. The parties weren’t able to come to an agreement despite lengthy negotiations, and it finally went to arbitration in April. The union is asking for a 21 per cent wage increase over four years — nine per cent, six per cent, three per cent and three per cent. The city is offering six per cent over three years, at two per cent each year.
The parties are still waiting for a ruling from the arbitrator.
"I would describe it as a very toxic period," Ritchie said. "It was hostilities that weren’t needed."
Ritchie’s term was up on Tuesday, and he said he decided not to put his name forward for re-election.
"I don’t see us making any progress in labour relations," he said. "It’s one of those things, I want to see how things progress, and quite frankly, change is always good … It was my decision not to run, and I want to get on with the next stage of my life."
Ritchie will remain a member of the Brandon union, and recently was re-elected as secretary/treasurer for the Manitoba Professional Firefighters Association.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 7, 2014