New council focusing on improving relationships: mayor
CORNER BROOK The president of the Corner Brook firefighters union has had his suspension overturned and the reprimands of the remainder of the executive have been abolished.
Geoff Sparkes confirmed Friday he had received official notification that the grievance, pertaining to the action taken against them over a newspaper advertisement placed during the election campaign, was upheld. Sparkes, the president of the Corner Brook Fire Fighters Association Local 1222, received a one-week suspension — the equivalent of four shifts — without pay. He has been reimbursed for his lost wages. The incident will be erased from their record, according to Sparkes.
The president said the union executive, and the membership, are content with what has transpired — that the grievance process resolved what they had believed to be an erroneous action.
“The union, and association, has the right to speak out on behalf of the membership on safety and other issues deemed necessary,” he said.
There was no explanation or apology provided with the written notification, and Sparkes is fine with that.
“We don’t think it is necessary to come from this mayor and council,” he said. “They are not the ones that had any involvement. They weren’t even in office when this stuff happened.”
He said the membership as a whole were upset with the action taken against the executive, and with comments former mayor Neville Greeley made via email afterwards.
Greeley described the ad as misleading and unacceptable, and as a fear tactic.
The comments came at the end of the mayor’s four-year term, which included a period of tumultuous negotiations between the city and firefighters. It continued when four firefighter positions were eliminated the day a new agreement was signed.
“The biggest problem at our fire department is the trouble makers have far too much time on their hands to do anything but conspire,” Greeley wrote in the email.
Sparkes said that was particularly upsetting for firefighters.
With the grievance upheld, Sparkes said firefighters are ready to put this all behind them. He said there is a good start to improving relations between council and their employees, which began with opening the lines of communication.
The president said the firefighters will allow the new council time to get acclimated, especially since they have already announced a review of the city’s entire budget. He recognizes there is much more to the city than the fire department.
“We are not looking for special attention, just attention that we deserve,” he said. “We are just focused on the fire department, where as (council) has the fire department, operational services, all kinds of stuff throughout the city — businesses — that they have to focus on as well.”
The ad entitled “Five questions to ask your Corner Brook candidates” focused around firefighter safety, the services provided by the department, the cost of the department to the city, and re-investment into the force.
The safety concerns and need for additional investment remains, Sparkes said.
“We are hoping the new mayor and council are going to be looking into it,” he said.
He said an independent review — external from union and management — of fire services, and based on industry standards and safety, should be done.
Meanwhile, Corner Brook Mayor Charles Pender would not comment specifically on the suspension or grievance because it is an internal staffing issue. He also would not confirm or deny that counsel discussed the situation and provided this directive to management.
“Let’s just say that we put an emphasis on a respectful workplace,” he said. “That means that everybody is worthy of respect in this organization. We expect all of our employees to be treated equally.”
As for the issues raised by firefighters pertaining to safety, he said council is committed to safety in the workplace.
“We will review the existing policies to look for any areas we can seek improvement, in consultation with all our employees,” he said. “We will be speaking with all our employees, and finding areas of concern they may have.”
Council is determining whether there will be a committee formed or what approach is best to do this, the mayor said. He said the issues within the ad also have budgetary allocations, and also must be addressed in that respect.
Meanwhile, reports of low morale among their employees, and poor relationships between employees and council or management, is concerning for council, said Pender.
“We have had some discussions amongst ourselves, and we will be talking to management and our employees, looking at how do we go through this,” he said.
It will be determined whether outside assistance — such as through Municipal Affairs — will be required.
“It is going to take a bit of time, but we do have it on our radar,” he said. “We are not going to come up with some sort of knee-jerk reaction to some issues that were going on for four or five years.”