After voting to join the Canadian Union of Public Employees earlier this year, the approximately 100 paid on-call firefighters in North Cowichan have signed their first collective agreement with the municipality.
The approximately two-year agreement is a first for paid on-call firefighters in B.C.
A press release from North Cowichan said the agreement demonstrates a commitment to retaining a paid on-call fire service, and recognizes and appreciates the firefighters for their commitment and the benefit they provide to the community.
“Additionally, the agreement includes enhanced insurance for on and off duty, including family coverage; increased base-wage rates for each year of the two-year term and additional pay for statutory holidays, and for more than 35 hours worked in a week,” the release said.
“One-time cost of living increases were also paid to firefighters based on years of service.”
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CUPE 358 President Jeff Parker said the agreement recognizes the vital services paid on-call firefighters provide in the community.
“Earlier this year, these workers joined CUPE, and we want to thank North Cowichan for a collaborative first round of negotiations,” Parker said.
“We are pleased to have established standard processes in this round of negotiations, such as a dispute resolution process and a health and safety committee, that will better support workers and continue to ensure high-quality safety services for residents and businesses.”
North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas said the collective agreement solidifies the municipality’s commitment to its paid on-call fire service, and underscores the importance and value of North Cowichan’s firefighters.
“I want to thank the bargaining committee members on both sides who worked extremely hard to reach this brand-new agreement,” he said.
The announcement of the signing of the collective agreement comes on the heels of a report prepared by Tim Pley and Associates that was presented at a council meeting on Oct. 4 recommending measures to improve North Cowichan’s fire service culture and rebuild trust.
Historically, the individual fire halls, which include Chemainus, Crofton, Maple Bay, and South End, operated independently of each other.
But changes in the regulatory environment, combined with external reviews and recommendations related to the operation of the fire department, led North Cowichan to take steps five years ago to consolidate the department under one central administration.
Tim Pley’s report indicated that this resulted in a rapid pace of transformative change for the fire service that led to resistance from some department members, and the transition has not gone smoothly in a number of regards, including a lack of communication between many staff members and the new centralized management of the department.
Pley said that while many fire department members acknowledge that there was a need for change, there remains broad and deep resistance directed towards the department and municipal leadership about the manner in which changes have been implemented and communicated.
Parker said the certification process began for the firefighters to join CUPE 358 when a number of them were raising concerns and voicing opinions individually, but not all in management were listening.
He said that with the union bringing all those individual voices together collectively as one voice, it helped management hear what the firefighters were saying more clearly.
Parker said it helps that CUPE 358 already represents more than 200 other workers in North Cowichan, as well as workers at the City of Duncan, the Cowichan Valley Regional District and three other employer units in the Valley, so management at North Cowichan is already familiar with the union’s processes and the structure it provides.
“We’re very pleased that North Cowichan brought in Tim Pley and Associates, which has a background on firefighting issues, to write the report, and with the structure that Tim Pley recommended,” he said.
“We welcome the fact that North Cowichan has already started action on some of the report’s recommendations, and we’re happy that the firefighters are being supported in the community.”