Volunteer firefighters want 'collective voice'

Ballots cast in Sudbury last week are being reviewed to see if the city's volunteer firefighters can officially form a union.

Greater Sudbury volunteer firefighters waiting for approval on vote to join union

Ballots cast in Sudbury last week are being reviewed to see if the city's volunteer firefighters can officially form a union.

A handful of other Ontario cities do have unionized part-time firefighters and it can lead to increased costs for taxpayers. But part-time firefighters are not in it for the money, according to chief steward for Local 911, which represents 55 firefighters in Belleville.

Joe Smith said his members — who make an average of $3,500 a year — worry less about salaries and benefits and more about having a say in how the fire service is run.

"It's always good to have a voice, because fire departments are very political," he said.

"Not having that collective voice is a detriment to any volunteer organization."

But the employee costs for part-time firefighters jumped last year in Belleville by $27,000.

The president of the Ontario Fire Chiefs Association said the bump in costs is not unusual.

"As you start to go through formal collective bargaining and negotiations, formal grievance processes, those types of things there can be increased costs," Kevin Foster said.

He noted the number of unionized part-time firefighters is still quite small across the province.

Better planning

Sudbury's 328 part-time firefighters should find out in the coming days if they are officially allowed to form a union, after they voted 65 per cent in favour of organizing last week. The results of the vote need to be reviewed by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

The president of the union for Sudbury's full-time firefighters said if the voted is approved, the change won't have an immediate impact on his members.

But Rob Hyndman said he hopes having formal leadership for part-timers will allow the two unions and the city to better plan out how best to cover Greater Sudbury when it comes to emergency fire services.

Hyndman has argued that Sudbury needs to take a closer look at which firefighters cover what parts of the city.

For decades, the outlying areas have been served by part-time brigades, while the full-timers stay in Sudbury proper.

"If it's more cost effective to run a certain way as opposed to another, then I imagine we can have an adult conversation about that and move forward accordingly," Hyndman said.