City’s 328-member force deciding today in a vote at four stations across the city
Sudbury’s 328 volunteer firefighters are voting today whether to unionize and join the Christian Labour Association of Canada.
Carla Geldof, the Ontario rep for CLAC, said her union already represents volunteer firefighters in Belleville, Quinte West, Midland and the City of Hamilton. The organizing drive has taken place over the last 3.5 weeks, she said.
“One of the biggest reasons is to give them a collective voice,” Geldof said, when asked why “volunteers” would need to unionize. “People think of them as volunteers in the traditional sense. But the reality is they are paid, they are employees of the city. They’re not volunteers in the sense that they’re not getting paid.”
While declining to talk about what issues need to be addressed in Sudbury should firefighters decide to unionize, Geldof did say there are a number of items common to all volunteer firefighters, including health and safety and communications issues.
“And there are some policy and procedural issues that we definitely should be looking at first,” she said.
Under Ontario law, to unionize more than 50 per cent of those who vote have to vote yes.
Kevin Fowke, the city’s director of human resources, said the city is trying to get the word out about the vote to ensure, whichever way it goes, everyone has a chance to exercise their rights.
“We certainly want them to get out and vote their conscience,” Fowke said. “But it’s up to them at this point. We don’t have a say on whether or not a group organizes ... But picture the scenario where there was a bargaining unit of, say, 20, and only two people show up to vote. If they both vote yes, we want a union, then all 20 get it.”
Fowke said volunteer firefighters in Sudbury work out of about 25 stations and are paid on a scale depending on whether they are a district chief, a captain or a volunteer firefighter. They are paid between $23 and $27 an hour for fighting fires or training.
They work under what’s called the Volunteer Firefighters Accord, which sets out the terms of reference for their service, as well as their pay scales. They train with captains, at city stations or at the central training facility in Azilda.
Fowke expects that if volunteer do organize, pay increases would be part of negotiations.
“Any unit that certifies in the province of Ontario has a year to negotiate a first collective agreement,” he said. “And I think monetary issues would be part of that.
“The issues we’re aware of with our volunteer firefighters are related to training and communications. But I think there’s every possibility there could be a monetary impact.”
Voting schedule for the 328 volunteer firefighters in Greater Sudbury eligible to vote on whether or not to unionize and join the Christian Labour Association of Canada:
-8-10 a.m., Station 21 in Falconbridge
-12-2 p.m., Station 11 in Chelmsford
-4-6 p.m., Station 16 in Val Therese
-7:30-9 p.m., Station 6, Waters