Editor's blog

January 19, 2017
Written by
Jan. 19, 2017, Toronto -  It’s complicated, this two-hatter issue. But the gist of it is this: an American-based trade union is denying its members the freedom that other Canadians have to work and do what they want in their spare time – build decks, plow snow, fix plumbing, be volunteer/part-time firefighters in their home communities.
The union – the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – on Monday tried four of its members who work full time in Mississauga, Ont., and also work part time¬ in Halton Hills, a community northwest of Toronto with a composite fire department.

The IAFF constitution prohibits secondary employment – it forbids firefighters from working part time in another union shop (as firefighters, paramedics or public-safety officers), and members who do so are disciplined for violating an oath. Oddly, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association allows, by its own count, about 1,000 of its members to work as paramedics, without reprisal. 

Monday’s session ¬– an internal trial board hearing ¬– was closed; Mississauga’s past union president Mark Train, who sometimes represents the union in legal matters, declined to discuss details, saying the process has not concluded and, “as such I will not comment on the matter.”

The hearing started and ended Monday but the trial board has a period of time during which to mete out penalties. One of the four firefighters on trail admitted to violating the IAFF constitution and resigned Monday night from the Halton Hills Fire Department. 

The penalty being considered for the other firefighters is a $1,000 initial fine followed by monthly levies of $500, and another $500 for every six months during which the part-time activities continue – a fairly blunt deterrent. 

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the union would revoke the two-hatters’ memberships, thereby potentially affecting their full-time jobs; most collective agreements require municipalities to employ only firefighters who are associatin members, and the IAFF has pressed towns and cities to terminate firefighters who have been dismissed from the union.

The Halton Hills firefighters represented themselves at Monday’s hearing – legal counsel was not provided; in fact, the municipality is eliminating two-hatters through attrition, and has declined to hire two hatters for its part-time roster since 2011 in anticipation of union action.

That’s in contrast to Caledon, Ont., a large, composite department with 22 unionized career firefighters and more than 250 volunteers. Some Brampton firefighters who work part time in Caledon received letters from their locals in the fall, making it clear that there would be repercussions if they continued to respond to calls as two-hatters. Some two-hatters handed in their pagers but the issue is ongoing. Town of Caledon management is supporting the two-hatters and providing legal counsel. 

And that may lead to the test of Bill 109, which was introduced by the governing Liberals and passed in 2016; it amended Ontario’s Fire Protection and Prevention Act to include a non-discrimination clause meant to ensure that full-time firefighters can also work part time in their smaller, home communities. 

But there’s politics at play. Ontario’s IAFF members, of course, roundly backed Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals during the 2014 provincial election; if Bill 109 is, indeed, tested, and holds up to scrutiny, that sea of support could evaporate. 

While the IAFF is American-based, the two-hatter issue arises only if charges are laid by a member of the offending firefighter’s home local, or by someone else affected by the two-hatting activity. I’m at a bit of a loss to understand how unionized firefighters in Mississauga are affected by their colleagues’ part-time employment in Halton Hills, but maybe I’m missing something.

And, in what seems to be a conflicting philosophy, the OPFFA’s fire-paramedic proposal would allow members who are both firefighters and paramedics to administer symptom relief to patients at medical calls; critics claim the plan is simply a way to ensure firefighter jobs. 

Read between the lines.

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