WFPS chief tells hearing he was 'eager to apologize' in spat with paramedic union
Winnipeg paramedics feared chief's lack of respect for 'single-role EMS providers' was compromising care
The chief of the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service now says he had been "eager to apologize" to Winnipeg paramedics after being accused of breaching respectful workplace policies by appearing to criticize paramedics during a firefighters conference two years ago.
John Lane had previously refused to apologize, blaming the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union Local 911 — which represents about 350 Winnipeg paramedics — for getting its members riled up.
"It was clear my initial perceptions of the complaint were incorrect," he said during the second day of a workplace arbitration hearing held to settle the spat. "I was eager to apologize as I said, from the outset."
The hearing was called to settle the dispute between the union and Lane, who was found by an investigator to have breached the city's respectful workplace policy two years ago.
The union is asking for declaratory relief as well as damages from the city to union executives, the union itself, and the individual paramedics it represents for the breach of the policy.
In August 2015, Lane and Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, attended an International Association of Fire Fighters conference in Maryland, where Lane was scheduled to speak about the city's integrated fire-paramedic system.
Forrest tweeted out the brochure detailing the content of Lane's presentation, titled "EMS First Response: Facts Versus Rhetoric."
The write-up went on to say 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."
Troy Reidy, vice-president of MGEU Local 911, told an arbitrator Thursday the tweet reinforced the feeling expressed by paramedics that their concerns were not being taken seriously by their chief, and that Lane had viewed their attempts to highlight problems as rhetoric, rather than legitimate concerns.
He said concerns were raised about lack of documentation, training and critical-incident reporting, and gave examples of what he referred to as "the types of things that we had approached management on that we were concerned about."
"In some cases these were calls where vital signs had not been completed, in some cases these were calls where they could not find a patient-care report — there was nothing attached to that incident, and so this was information that we had requested," said Reidy.
In his testimony later in the day Lane said he was "horrified" when he first saw what was written in the brochure.
City lawyer questions process
City of Winnipeg labour lawyer John Jacobs appeared to take issue with the fact the union filed a formal complaint, instead of discussing it with Chief Lane directly.
"Disputes should be dealt with in a productive manner?" he asked Reidy.
"Whenever possible," Reidy replied.
"Conflicts should be dealt with and discussed instead of litigated?" Jacobs asked.
"If possible," Reidy said.
Jacobs then asked Reidy why the union hadn't gone to Michael Jack, City of Winnipeg chief operating officer, who is also Lane's boss. On Wednesday, Reidy testified he believed Lane was at the top of the food chain.
"Ultimately in this whole process, after the written complaint was filed Michael Jack became involved because [he] is the chief's boss. So the chief is not at the top," said Jacobs Thursday.
In his cross-examination, MGEU lawyer Keith LaBossiere asked Reidy about the meetings with Jack.
"Did they ever say to you the chief was wrong?" LaBossiere asked. "Did they ever say the chief was disrespectful?"
"No," said Reidy.
He said the union was told the chief had done nothing wrong and was not prepared to apologize.
Lane will be called to testify Thursday afternoon.