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This article was published 11/10/2017 (249 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A perception that they’ve been ostracized by the leader of their own organization is driving a labour conflict between Winnipeg’s paramedics and city hall.
Troy Reidy, vice-president of the union that represents the city’s paramedics, said a feeling of despondency has swept over the EMS paramedic team because of the actions of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane.
"Our membership has felt they are a small group in a big organization whose voice is drowned out by a chief and a senior management team who, quite frankly, doesn’t choose to take the time to listen to us," Reidy told a labour arbitration hearing on Wednesday. "There is a pervasive feeling that they are not respected by this chief — they are not valued by this chief or this organization."
Reidy was the first witness to testify at the hearing dealing with a grievance filed by the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) Local 911, which represents 350 paramedics of the EMS division of the fire paramedic service.
The grievance was filed after the paramedics and their union remained concerned following an independent investigation of a respectful workplace complaint against Lane.
The complaint concerned Lane’s involvement in the creation of a summary of a joint presentation he made to a conference in Maryland, organized by the International Association of Fire Fighters, in August 2015. The paramedics were upset with the wording of the summary, Lane’s initial dismissal of the respectful workplace complaint, his defence of the presentation summary and comments he made to the investigator defending his own actions and diminishing the paramedics’ concerns as unfounded and fuelled by what he said was the union’s executives’ desire to undermine the firefighter paramedic model.
The paramedics complaint was largely upheld by the investigation, which concluded Lane’s actions had contributed to a workplace conflict, but Lane did not issue an apology to the paramedics for several months after the report had been submitted.
The hearing is being heard by veteran labour arbitrator Arne Peltz. Three days this week have been set aside for the hearing.
The hearing resumes this morning, with Reidy being cross-examined by city hall’s counsel.
About two dozen paramedics attended the hearing. Lane did not attend, but is expected to testify on Friday.
The paramedics and their union believe the chief’s actions before and following the apology reveal he continues to hold them in contempt, and is arguing Peltz award a settlement in favour of the union, its executives and the 156 paramedics who filed a complaint against Lane.
MGEU counsel Keith LaBossiere said Winnipeg city hall failed to take any action to address the paramedics’ workplace complaint and said Lane’s apology was too late, inadequate and not credible given his own defence of his actions that were the subject of the complaint and his later actions towards paramedics.
Reidy told the hearing after Lane issued his apology in November 2016, the chief continued to ostracize the paramedics, citing several instances where they were excluded from events promoting the dual role paramedic service, including a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in July, an event at a Winnipeg Blue Bombers CFL game celebrating first responders and an annual award luncheon where the union was "disinvited."
Reidy said these events likely appear inconsequential to outsiders, but to EMS paramedics, they are evidence of the continued contempt they believe Lane has for them.
"To the outside person it may not seem like a big deal, but for us, we look at it as another example of a continuing pattern of disrespect under this chief," Reidy said. "Things haven’t changed and they haven’t improved... They are indicative of this larger pattern of being the outsider in the organization," who do the bulk of the emergency medical calls.
Earlier in the day, it appeared the hearing would not proceed after city lawyer John Jacobs proposed to hold private discussions with LaBossiere and the union to refer the matter to mediation. However, that initiative was unsuccessful.
Later, Jacobs unsuccessfully tried to prevent the public release of the investigator’s report into the respectful workplace complaint and Lane’s apology letter — moves opposed by the union — but that was rejected by Peltz.
Jacobs said in his opening remarks Lane had offered a "fulsome apology, in his own words," which was provided to each of the paramedics who filed a complaint and that should have addressed the union’s concerns.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Thursday, October 12, 2017 at 9:37 AM CDT: Updates