Helping the Volunteer Firefighters in Wainfleet, Ontario
In late 2016, CLAC was approached by the volunteers of the Wainfleet Fire Department. They were experiencing some challenges with the township.
Like most volunteer departments seeking unionization, the Wainfleet challenges revolved around health and safety and equipment issues. They’d had little success in raising the issues with the township’s CAO, fire chief, and mayor.
The volunteers already had an informal association, The Wainfleet Volunteer Firefighters Association (WVFA), and an informal collective agreement, of sorts. Historically, the association had acted as a committee for community and social events. The association lacked the tools to enforce the agreement when issues arose. After several years of challenges, the WVFA contacted CLAC to learn if we could assist them if they joined.
By February 2017, CLAC was actively engaged with the WVFA. After plenty of discussion, it was decided by everyone to proceed with a certification drive to get CLAC to be their union. Within a week, nearly all the volunteers had signed a card and by the end of February an application was filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
In response, the township argued that the WVFA was the bargaining agent for the volunteers and that CLAC’s application was untimely as their collective agreement would not expire until December 2018. The township also argued that captains and those above the rank of captain are managers and thus their petitions cards should not be considered and they should not participate in a vote. CLAC disagreed and the matter was sent to the labour board for a case management hearing. In the meantime, the secret ballot vote was conducted and the ballot box sealed until the matters were resolved.
The matter progressed through a great deal of consultation. But instead of proceeding with further litigation, the parties met one Saturday morning to consider a novel solution. We agreed that the township would formally recognize the WVFA as the legitimate bargaining agent for the volunteers and would recognize the existing collective agreement as an enforceable document. The township also agreed to establish a labour management committee to ensure that the volunteers, council, and fire management were regularly communicating and resolving issues in an effective, collaborative way. In exchange for these agreements, CLAC withdrew the application for certification, but the WVFA finally had the ability to enforce their contract—a huge win for them.
This is also a win for cooperative labour relations. It shows that parties can find win-win solutions, if that is their goal. While CLAC didn’t grow its membership, we made great connections and supported a community and its fire department.