City should pay paramedics union, members more than $500K, MGEU lawyer tells arbitration hearing

The union that represents 306 paramedics wants an arbitrator to issue a harsh penalty on the City of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane.

City's lawyer says perceived slight to paramedics was addressed by apology

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane listens to the closing arguments at an arbitration hearing where the paramedics' union accused him of unfairly favouring firefighters. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The union that represents 306 paramedics wants an arbitrator to issue a harsh penalty on the City of Winnipeg and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane.

Keith Labossiere, the lawyer for Manitoba General and Government Employees' Union Local 911, says the city should pay MGEU $50,000 and each of its members $1,500 in damages for not following policy and taking steps to resolve a respectful workplace grievance between the medics and their boss.

"The sad thing is it was the easiest thing to resolve. [The city was] not prepared to do it. They're still fighting it," Labossiere said.

In his closing arguments at an arbitration hearing called to resolve the two-year dispute, Labossiere said the city needs a strong incentive to ensure it provides a healthy work environment for paramedics in the future. With about 350 paramedics in the union, the individual payments would total more than $500,000.

"They did nothing but allow the chief to issue a late and insincere apology," Labossiere said about the city.

"They did not follow their policy. They did not do a corrective action plan. All they did was they let the chief do what he wanted to do, which was take four months to write an apology which was lacking sincerity."

In his closing statement, Winnipeg's lawyer John Jacobs argued the city shouldn't have to pay. 

"There is no loss of wages to anybody. No loss of overtime or overtime opportunities," said Jacobs. "If there are issues of mutual trust it's not going to be cured by money. It's not going to be cured by forced apologies."

The union representing paramedics wants an arbitrator to slap the city with $600K in fines over its handling of a complaint against Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane. Caroline Barghout reports. 1:51

Grievance dates back to 2015

The union filed the grievance against Lane after a brochure write-up about a presentation he had given at an international firefighters conference in August 2015 was tweeted out by Alex Forrest, head of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, the firefighters' union.

The brochure saidthe city's integrated fire-paramedic service model, which has been in place since the 1990s, was 'continuously threatened by single-role EMS providers and misinformed leaders.'- Grievance

It said the city's integrated fire-paramedic service model, which has been in place since the 1990s, was "continuously threatened by single-role EMS providers and misinformed leaders."

Instead of apologizing for the disparaging remarks, Lane dismissed them, then withheld providing new winter coats for the paramedics, Labossiere said. Lane was later forced to issue an apology after an independent investigator hired by the city concluded Lane breached the Respectful Workplace Policy. 

In October, Lane testified that he had wanted to apologize right away but was busy presenting at conferences and then was on vacation. Then a formal grievance was filed and he had to wait until the process concluded, he said.

Labossiere said in contrast, Lane was quick to respond to an article published in the Winnipeg Free Press that was critical of firefighters.

A week after the article was written, he penned a letter of support for his members that was posted on the United Firefighters of Winnipeg website.

Labossiere said in his letter, Lane criticized the media and said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service "must ensure our facts are clear and correct and that our language cannot be misconstrued."

"This is the culture that exists in the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service. There is a bias against the paramedics and in favour of the firefighters," Labossiere said.

Prime minister's visit raised

Labossiere used the prime minister's visit this past summer as an example of that bias. Winnipeg's busiest fire hall was shut down for hours for a photo op with Justin Trudeau that did not include any paramedics.

Lane has testified that he had nothing to do with the event, which he said was arranged by Forrest.

"If the chief's not ready to show some leadership, which clearly he's not, why doesn't the city show some leadership instead of condoning his behaviour?" Lane said.

In addition to ordering the city to pay thousands in damages, the union wants Lane to be ordered to sign an apology to paramedics that was drafted by the MGEU, to attend remedial respectful workplace training within six months, and to be forbidden from speaking at any union events or conferences unless representatives from both the paramedics union and the firefighters union are invited.

The MGEU also wants the city to sit down with the union to work on their relationship and outline steps they will take in the future to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Damages shouldn't be required: City lawyer

The City doesn't believe damages are required in this case.

In his closing arguments, Jacobs said while the union may have acted within its rights in filing a formal grievance against Lane — it may not have been the best approach.

 'We are left wondering how it might have turned out if it had been done in a less dramatic fashion.'- City lawyer John Jacobs

"Is the collecting of signatures in the middle of the night in a four-day frenzy part of the spirit of resolution or problem-solving indicated by the policy? Perhaps not. Can't fault them for doing it that way but it might not have been the most productive course of action," said Jacobs.

"We're not here to blame the MGEU for choosing to file a written complaint and collect 155 signatures rather than many of the other options they could have chosen. But we are left wondering how it might have turned out if it had been done in a less dramatic fashion," said Jacobs.

Jacobs said Lane issued a written apology after an independent investigator found he had breached the Respectful Workplace Policy and the city deems it to be sufficient.

"The chief already apologized. If it falls short of ideal, it's still an apology," said Jacobs. 

"In my view to order an apology in the circumstances of this case would be more punitive than compensatory."

He said if there's one thing the city could have done better, perhaps Lane's apology could have been sent to all 306 paramedics and not just the 155 who signed a formal complaint. 

Labour arbitrator Arne Peltz is expected to release his written decision on the matter in a couple of months. 

About the Author

Caroline Barghout

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: