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Union 'shocked' three volunteers axed for speaking out against fire plan

A total of 11 people disciplined for speaking out against city's fire optimization plan

The head of the union that represents volunteer firefighters in Greater Sudbury said the local and its members are shocked the city fired three firefighters for speaking out against the fire optimization plan.

In total, 11 volunteer firefighters were disciplined — though only three were fired — following meetings late last week, said Gord O'Coin, regional director of Ontario Volunteer Firefighters Association, CLAC Local 920, which represents about 260 volunteer firefighters in Greater Sudbury.

“We're still shocked that these volunteers were disciplined this way,” said O'Coin. “They're shocked, and they're not sure exactly what's going to happen.”

Disciplinary meetings started Sept. 28 after an ongoing investigation dating back to June of this year, when volunteer firefighters took it upon themselves to speak out against the city's heavily scrutinized fire optimization plan. They voiced their concerns either through social media or in direct conversation with city councillors during the various information sessions.

The city said in a statement those actions violated the employee handbook, specifically policies related to political and work communications.

Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan said in a Facebook post he is considering bringing forward a motion to remove certain provisions from the City of Greater Sudbury employee handbook — provisions that ultimately led to a number of volunteer firefighters being fired last week.

Kirwan posted that section on Facebook. 

It states:

“While all of us enjoy freedom of speech as private citizens, during the portion of your day where you are a CGS employee, your behaviour should be apolitical. As Employees, we are the implementors of public policy, not the debaters of public policy. 

"To do otherwise, does not support democratic principles, or CGS’s purpose. To be specific, employees shall not communicate (either visually, in written form, or verbally) to the public, clients, or media on issues that are before CGS council; at odds with the mandate and policies of CGS, or are the subject matter of a municipal election, unless it is part of their official duties as an Employee.”

Furthermore, the city discourages employees from speaking with individual council members.

“The terms in the handbook are so prescriptive," Kirwan said, "that it appears to prevent employees from saying anything to anyone, and what is even more concerning to me, is the reference that communication with councillors is discouraged.

“Employees are constituents of my ward, and they should be able to talk to their councillor about anything. This matter is certainly not finished.”

For O'Coin, the work is only beginning. The union will be filing grievances on the behalf of all 11 volunteer firefighters, regardless of the actions taken upon them by the city, O'Coin said. 

The grievances will be heard within the next few weeks, he said. If they aren't successful in reversing the decision, they will take the matter before an arbitrator. That can take a number of months, he said.

Arron Pickard

About the Author: Arron Pickard

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