'I deeply regret my actions,' says Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service chief
Arbitrator fined city $100K last week after ruling that Chief John Lane breached respectful workplace policies
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane has apologized to the city's paramedic union, one week after an arbitrator ruled he breached respectful workplace policies.
"I deeply regret my actions and I regret the distraction that those actions have caused. Really now, it's a matter of moving forward," Lane said on Thursday, speaking to reporters for the first time since the March 1 ruling.
"We have come to the end of a long road," he added, saying he is committed to "re-establishing a respectful workplace relationship" with the paramedics and their union.
Lane repeatedly deflected questions about details in the arbitrator's report, saying he won't "revisit evidence that's been presented many times over."
He insisted he wants to move forward, rebuild the relationship and make sure the WFPS continues to deliver excellent service to Winnipeggers.
'A lot of work to do'
Asked how he might fix the rift with paramedics and convince them he doesn't favour the firefighters union and its president, Alex Forrest, over them, Lane was again vague.
"My desire is to have effective relationships with all of our bargaining units," he said.
Lane told reporters there have been lessons learned from the dispute and he wants to ensure that his focus — and that of the city itself — is on those lessons, which he said are about trust and building confidence in the workforce.
"I've got a lot of work to do," he said, explaining he will meet with paramedics to re-establish trust.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union Local 911, which represents roughly 350 paramedics in the service, accepted Lane's apology.
"I'm very encouraged we'll be able to take a step forward and move forward with this," MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said.
Forrest declined to comment.
On March 1, arbitrator Arne Peltz ordered the City of Winnipeg to pay $115,000 in damages to its paramedics after he determined Lane breached the policies in 2015, and failed to make a sincere apology in a timely manner.
The ruling stemmed from a presentation Lane made about the city's integrated paramedic-fire service model at an August 2015 firefighters conference in Maryland.
A summary in a brochure for the event said the fire-based model was being "continuously threatened by single-role EMS providers and misinformed leaders. The speakers in this workshop will present how they use facts to thwart rhetoric and protect the service they provide."
The MGEU filed a complaint and grievance about the brochure in September 2015, signed by 156 members of the union. Later that month, the city hired an independent investigator to look into it, although the formal investigation didn't begin until February 2016.
In his ruling, Peltz agreed with the investigator's finding that Lane wasn't guilty of harassment, but the comments in the brochure were a violation of the city's respectful workplace policies and the union's collective agreement.
Peltz also found the chief's apology — delivered in November 2016, more than a year after the conference — was "unreasonably late, insufficient and insincere."
"The obvious and best response to a single act of disrespect, as occurred at the conference in August 2015, was a sincere apology," Peltz wrote in his decision. "It also would have been the least expensive resolution for the City."
Peltz described Lane's testimony throughout the hearing as "constantly shifting."
The arbitrator said Lane initially testified he was "horrified" when he saw the version in the brochure, but later appeared to retract that statement and said the offence was "in the eye of the beholder" before reversing course again.