Manitoba

'Oh God barf': Firefighters union president's texts to chief prompt gasps at arbitration hearing

Text messages from the firefighters union president to Winnipeg's fire paramedic chief were read aloud before gasping spectators at an arbitration hearing on Friday.

Chief John Lane described relationship with UFFW president as collegial, despite paramedics' concerns

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane prepares to hand his phone over to MGEU lawyer Keith LaBossiere during an arbitration hearing on Friday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Text messages from the firefighters union president to Winnipeg's fire paramedic chief were read aloud before gasping spectators at an arbitration hearing on Friday.

Chief John Lane handed over his phone so the texts could be read on the final day of a hearing called to settle a complaint brought against him by the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union Local 911, which represents about 350 Winnipeg paramedics.

MGEU officials say Lane breached the respectful workplace policy when he did a presentation about the city's integrated fire paramedic service model at a firefighters' conference in August 2015. A summary of the presentation, which described the model as "continuously threatened by single-role EMS providers [paramedics] and misinformed leaders," was posted to Twitter by Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.

Earlier in the hearing, MGEU officials said the presentation and tweet reinforced the belief among paramedics that their concerns aren't taken seriously by the chief.

Texts between the chief and firefighters' union president came up as paramedics union lawyers questioned Lane about his relationship with Forrest.

Firefighters union president's texts to chief prompt gasps at arbitration hearing

5 years ago
Duration 3:21
Text messages from the firefighters union president to Winnipeg's fire paramedic chief were read aloud before gasping spectators at an arbitration hearing on Friday.

The fire paramedic chief said he doesn't have an inappropriate relationship with Forrest and characterized their relationship as "collegial," but text messages from Forrest just hours before Friday's arbitration hearing had the union boss giving the chief advice about how to handle the complaint from paramedics.

"Oh God barf.… That is one reason they are doing this, to keep you from doing more presentations ..." Forrest wrote in a text message read from the chief's phone during the hearing.

It's not clear what that was a response to, because the chief's texts to Forrest had been deleted from the phone. 

MGEU lawyer Keith LaBossiere reads the texts from Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, to fire paramedic Chief John Lane, right. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Friday's hearing started off with MGEU lawyer Keith LaBossiere asking Lane about his relationship with Forrest. Lane said it was a "collegial relationship" and, when pushed further, described it as "appropriate."

LaBossiere then asked whether Forrest calls or emails the fire chief, and Lane responded, "Sometimes."

"And at times he texts you?" LaBossiere asked.

"Correct," Lane replied.

The lawyer then referred to an email the chief had sent to his boss and senior Fire Paramedic Service managers after the union filed the formal complaint two years before. LaBossiere told the hearing that in the email, Lane was mad because Forrest had called to tell him the complaint found its way to the media.

"You go on to say, 'Alex offered support for me,'" LaBossiere said.

The lawyer then asked for the fire-paramedic chief's phone, saying that while he had asked for all relevant information, he had learned "there was a text" between the two men. 

'This is total crap'

Lane gave his phone to the lawyer, but said texts are purged every 24 hours.

Looking at the phone, the lawyer said there was a text to Lane from Forrest at 1 a.m. on Friday and another at 8 a.m., in which said the firefighters union president had "reviewed all the media" and it was low in the news cycle. 

The text told the chief the complaint hearing might only get short-term attention because Forrest had a better story coming to take the attention away.

In the text, Forrest said one thing will be clear: The MGEU's relationship with the mayor and the city will suffer.

"But one thing that will be long term is the impact on MGEU's relationship with the mayor, his office and the senior admin of the city," Forrest texted. "They can see this for what it is. You apologized but they are not interested in that but to drag our system through the dirt.

"I can tell you, I have heard many councillors that have said this is total crap," Forrest texted.

The fire chief said he deleted his text messages to Forrest.

Mayor Brian Bowman stood by Lane when asked if the testimony had led him to lose confidence in the chief.

"The matters that we're reading about, there's a process that is underway right now, and we'll watch that process continue, but I also note ... there's a longstanding dispute between some of the unions regarding the integrated model, which I think has served taxpayers and patients very well," he said during an unrelated press conference later in the day Thursday. "I support the integrated model and I support our chief."

The MGEU lawyer asked Lane if he could set aside his pride and try to rebuild the relationship with the paramedics. Lane responded he couldn't do anything to build a bridge because the complaint was not over.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the MGEU, said she won't be asking for Lane to resign after arbitrators make their ruling, and hopes both sides can resolve their issues. 

"What I will be asking for and really hoping for and the expectation is that on moving forward from this there is a way to be able to find that there is a mutual respect and some value put to the work that these folks do and that there concerns will be listed front and centre," she said. "Going to an arbitration, going through a grievance, it means there's a dispute on where things are at — the decisions of the arbitrator settles that dispute and it's up to both parties then on how they're going to work forward."

The union is asking for declaratory relief and damages from the city to union executives, the union itself and the individual paramedics it represents for the breach of the policy.

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