BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Brandon Fire Chief Brent Dane testified during a Manitoba Labour Board hearing regarding two grievances filed against the City of Brandon by the Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association at the Victoria Inn on Saturday.
The City of Brandon and Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association were back in front of the Manitoba Labour Board on Sunday to wrap up proceedings in a hearing regarding two grievances from the union.
Union lawyer Garth Smorang argued that the city violated the collective bargaining agreement between the two sides when the city reposted a vacant position for a lieutenant’s position at the fire department that said the city had the right to underfill the position after no successful applicants were procured following the first posting.
As a result of the posting, Terry Parlow was hired as a lieutenant for the fire department, something the union also believes violates the CBA.
Throughout three days of testimony in a conference room at the Victoria Inn — with city supporters on one side of the room, including Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and city manager Scott Hildebrand, and union supporters on the other, including firefighters and paramedics — arbitrator Colin Robinson heard from several witnesses, including fire Chief Brent Dane, union secretary Scott Hemstad and Parlow.
The grievances stem from a clause in the CBA that requires the city follow a lockstep process when hiring officers at the department. Prior to 1993, the city could hire any officer — captain, lieutenant, acting-second lieutenant and acting-first lieutenant — from the firefighter/paramedic pool. But in subsequent CBAs, language began to be introduced by, then union president, Dane, that changed the officer promotional system at the firehall into the early stages of a step-lock process. The work of Dane was carried forward by his successor, Parlow, who helped tighten the language of the CBA further; and to the point where the system exists today, which suggests a vacant captain position can only be filled by a lieutenant, a lieutenant position by an acting-second lieutenant, and active-second lieutenant position by an active-one lieutenant.
Parlow, who was hired into the position of lieutenant after the city’s second posting of the vacancy, was an active-one lieutenant, something today’s union president Wade Ritchie says circumvents the CBA.
"They don’t have the right (to underfill the position) because of the step-lock process that we have," Ritchie said after the hearing concluded. "The contract has to be followed and the language is clear."
Representatives for the city and its lawyer, Grant Mitchell, declined to comment after the proceedings.
On Saturday, Dane took the stand.
Dane testified in a loud voice, confident of his answers, but did shorten his responses when being questioned by the union.
Dane said that on four occasions the city had hired fire inspectors externally because no qualified candidate could be found internally to fill the position. And each time the city sought an agreement with the union that would allow the requirements — most notably that you had to be a first-class firefighter, something that can only be achieved by being a firefighter in the Brandon Fire Department for five years — be relaxed. A compromise was met and each time a fire inspector was hired from a different fire department within the province.
Dane also testified that at a Nov. 22, 2011 meeting between the union and management, that he asked the union to compromise regarding the two open lieutenants jobs — at this point another lieutenant job had become vacant due to the retirement of a captain and the subsequent trickle-down effect of the lockstep process. Dane asked that the union relax the requirements to allow both active-second lieutenants and active-first lieutenants within the department into the competition for the two vacant lieutenant jobs. In exchange, the city would relax the course requirements that had previously kept three of the four active-second lieutenants from being able to apply.
Following a Dec. 7 union meeting, the membership unanimously voted that the active-one lieutenants should not be allowed into the competition process, but that the city’s expected courses requirement was something the union was willing to negotiate separately.
Hemstad, testifying on behalf of the union on Friday, said following the meeting the union "had our marching orders."
Smorang argued that the fact Dane asked the union to reach a compromise meant management knew they couldn’t underfill the position without the consent of the union, otherwise why would he ask?
But Mitchell countered Smorang, arguing that Dane showed leadership skills while trying to find a compromise with the union, but that the agreement wasn’t something he needed in order to underfill the position.
"My friend (Smorang) kept saying: ‘Well (Dane), you were asking for the union to agree to this, so you must have needed their agreement?" Mitchell said to the arbitrator, before adding, "Chief Dane said: ‘No. Asking is better than telling.’"
Smorang concluded his examination of Dane by asking if there was any connection between the fact that on Jan. 26 the city announced the hiring of Terry Parlow, the same day the city announced the firing of Lt. Wade Ritchie.
"There is no correlation between the two," Dane stated.
On Sunday, Parlow took the stand.
Smorang began his examination of Parlow by attacking his credibility.
Parlow testified in a soft voice, sometimes mumbling and fumbling through the more than 50 exhibits on the table in front of him.
Parlow said that twice he met with the city’s lawyer prior to the hearing and had conversations with Mitchell above and beyond that. Parlow testified that he answered Mitchell’s questions "to the best of his ability" and that he was shown exhibits prior to them being presented at the hearing.
Smorang said he also asked to speak to Parlow prior to the hearing to which Parlow declined.
"I felt very awkward in discussing this matter with you," Parlow said to Smorang. "Since I had applied for the position of lieutenant, I have felt that I have been personally harassed, intimidated, put through a lot of difficult situations at work. I felt that there is a lot of anger toward me — hate — and I just felt extremely uncomfortable discussing this with you and the union president."
"My workplace has been turned upside down from applying," Parlow added.
Parlow testified that he was only made aware that the union grieved the posting after he had already applied for the position on Dec. 6.
In the closing remarks, both lawyers delivered pointed verbal blows toward each other to conclude what had been a relatively cordial hearing up until that point.
Smorang presented several different routes that the city could have taken in order to avoid the grievances and fill the position, and finished presenting the different options by saying,"at the end of the day ... Chief Dane decided he didn’t need an agreement with the union. And decided to go on without (an agreement) in violation of the clear language contained in the collective agreement."
There is no dispute that the initial posting must follow the CBA, said Mitchell in his closing remarks.
"Where we differ is whether the subsequent posting after the failed search is similarly constricted," Mitchell said.
The arbitrator expects to rule on the hearing by April 30.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 9, 2012