Nova Scotia

CBRM's spat with firefighters' union comes out into open

Poor morale has been a long-standing problem with the career firefighters in Sydney, N.S., the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's fire services committee was told on Tuesday.

Long-standing animosity has created 'divisive us-versus-them mentality' says chief administrative officer

Questions are being raised about a proposed new station for Cape Breton Regional Fire Service in downtown Sydney, N.S. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Trouble between the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and its firefighters' union came out into the open on Tuesday.

CBRM's chief administrative officer, Marie Walsh, told the fire and emergency services committee that poor morale has been a long-standing problem with the career firefighters in Sydney, N.S.

"Labour animosity has built up over the years with regard to collective agreement issues not being resolved," she said.

"A divisive 'us versus them' mentality regarding labour relations has materialized and is in part responsible for the negative outlook in the fire halls."

CBRM chief administrative officer Marie Walsh says some of the recommendations, such as joining a provincial regional enterprise network to spur economic development, are already underway. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Walsh said a consultant interviewed some firefighters and management and made a series of recommendations, including meetings and workshops on common values.

CBRM has also made strides in dealing with training and equipment issues, she said.

The municipality has also been without a fire chief for more than five months and Walsh said it's been a struggle to find a replacement.

She said a new fire chief will be expected to provide leadership and to improve labour relations.

Round three of recruiting

CBRM has done two rounds of applications and interviews and is now hiring a recruiting firm this summer.

But Walsh said it's not yet clear if the pay being offered is too low, or if there are other reasons for the failure to find a suitable candidate.

She said the recruiting firm should be able to identify the problems and find solutions.

Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger, a member of the fire services committee, said hiring a new chief would go a long way towards improving morale.

Coun. Darren Bruckschwaiger says firefighters and management have to be "rowing the same direction" and a new fire chief will help with that. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"At the end, everybody's gotta be rowing the same direction and we need a leader and we gotta get him in place soon," he said.

Jody Wrathall, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2779,  said he agrees a new chief is needed.

He also agreed that training and equipment have improved, and said firefighters want to work co-operatively to solve problems.

"OK, we've got a job to do and we've got public to look after, so we have done a lot with labour management," Wrathall said.

"We've got to be professional. But there's still the issues of how firefighters were treated in the past, and we're waiting to see how they're handled."

Jody Wrathall, president of International Association of Fire Fighters 2779, says an eight-year contract means the two sides will be free of negotiations for at least four years. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Wrathall said management has done nothing about historical instances of harassment and bullying of union members.

"Firefighters were mistreated," he said.

"People should be held accountable. Hold them accountable, and that's how this place is going to heal."

Walsh said senior staff will meet with the union soon, and sessions are being planned to go over CBRM's human resources policies and to establish a shared vision for the fire service.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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