British Columbia

Firefighters' union opposes affirmative action hiring

The union representing Richmond, B.C., firefighters is at odds with the Lower Mainland city's affirmative action plan to hire more women and visible minorities.

The union representing Richmond, B.C.,firefighters is at odds with the Lower Mainland city's affirmative action plan to hire more women and visible minorities.

Of the 200 firefighters working in the Vancouver suburb, there are only two females and only 10 members of visible minorities.

Last year, the Richmond Fire-Rescue Service lost most of its female staff, many of them claiming they faced a hostile work environment.

That led to a report by veteran mediator Vince Readythat slammed the fire department for discrimination and harassment of its women firefighters. Ready called the culturein the firehalls "juvenile and hostile" toward women, and said the hostility left them afraid to go to work.

The city has sincedrafted a targeted hiring plan that would change the makeup of the department, but Mayor Malcolm Brodie said new recruits would still have to meet the fire department's standards.

The Richmond Firefighters Association agrees the current situation has to change, but is opposed to the diversity hiring plan, worried that white male applicants will be shut out.

Union president Tom Wilkinson said the union does want to attract more women and minorities, but wants to go about it differently.

He said his members want to see change come through an increased number of applications, and to do that, plans to hold summer cadet camps and to reach out to cultural organizations and schools.

Firefighter Arthur Lewis, who is black, said it's a much better approach than the city's plan for targeted hiring.

"I truly feel that if we want to hire the best person and if that best person is a woman, we should hire her based on her capabilities, not based on her gender or because he's Asian or he is another visible minority group."

'Nothing is changing,' former firefighter says

Former Richmond firefighter Karen White, who was the first to quit, saidthe department hasn't done much to change things sincethe scathing report about working conditions came out.

"Not three months ago, a woman and another man quit for the same reason. It is clear that nothing is changing, and that people are leaving."

Wilkinsonadmitsthat despite the union's concerns, change has to come to the embattled department.

He said a recent poll of Richmond residents shows the department's public image has taken a beating. He also noted that charitable donations at firefighter events in the city were down last year by 25 to 30 per cent.

The city's affirmative action plan still needs approval from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.