“We are going to win this case and it will be very embarrassing to the City of Brandon, and it will be very costly to everybody concerned. This does not have to happen. All that has to happen is sit down and look at the facts.”
<*R><BI>— Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters
of Winnipeg, Oct. 28, 2011.
For several months, Brandonites have watched the slowly unfolding battle between Brandon’s firefighters union and the city administration.
And in the months leading up to the Manitoba Labour Board hearings, amid the suspension, demotion and ultimate firing of Wade Ritchie in January, the “I Support Wade Ritchie” red button campaign, and the mass complaint of firefighter wives to Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, both sides claimed to be on the side of the angels.
But on Monday, that battle abruptly ended, we were told, when the City of Brandon and the Brandon Professional Firefighters/Paramedics Association announced a settlement of “all outstanding matters before the Manitoba Labour Board.”
Interestingly, it was the same day that Brandon Fire Chief Brent Dane was to begin two days of testimony at a scheduled arbitration hearing on an unfair labour practice complaint — a hearing that was cancelled in lieu of the announcement.
As the Sun reported yesterday, the two sides said they had hammered out a “comprehensive settlement,” and still further, that officials on both sides “acknowledged to each other that actions were taken by each that were not appropriate and which resulted in the ongoing conflict.”
The only official comment from the city came from the city’s communications officer, Allison Collins, who trotted out the old “everybody wins” line.
“The only statement I can provide is the City of Brandon is happy with the settlement and we feel it’s a win-win for all who is involved,” Collins told the Sun.
It’s a line that the Brandon firefighters’ union appears ready to back as well, as shown by a letter to the editor on this page from Ritchie himself.
They can try to spin this yarn any which way they want, but the reality is that there were definite winners and losers in this process.
The big winner, outside of the firefighters’ union of course, is union president Ritchie. Not only was he reinstated back into the fire department on March 14 in a ruling by the Manitoba Labour Board, he told the Sun that he will remain employed by the Brandon Fire and Emergency Services as a full lieutenant — no demotion — and receive back pay that he would have received before this whole labour strife began.
This outcome is a huge vindication of the veracity of his claims.
To our eyes, the second big winner in all this is the city’s high-priced lawyer Grant Mitchell who argued the case against Ritchie. No matter the outcome, the city administration likely paid tens of thousands of dollars to Mitchell throughout the course of this.
Which brings us to the losers.
Just who will pay the legal costs — at the very least — for this messy situation? City taxpayers, of course.
As well, firefighter Terry Parlow, who was removed from the position of lieutenant and returned to his former position, has clearly lost. While the Manitoba Labour Board ruled that his promotion violated articles of the collective bargaining agreement during the processing of hiring a new lieutenant, he, like Ritchie, has no doubt suffered under the public spotlight.
And then there’s the City of Brandon administration and the management of the fire hall. We have no recourse but to question the wisdom of our civic officials on this file. Was this whole ‘city versus union’ fight merely the result of contract technicality and a difference of opinion, or rather a massive conflict of egos in the fire department and city hall?
The only thing that the City of Brandon managed to do by signing this agreement with the firefighters union was to stem the bleeding from weeks of bad press and keep Dane from having to testify.
Alex Forrest’s words were certainly prophetic. The only question to ask now, is what will be the consequences.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 16, 2012