CORNER BROOK The president of the Corner Brook firefighters union has been suspended over a newspaper advertisement than ran last week.
Geoff Sparkes received a one-week suspension — the equivalent of four shifts — while three other union executive members received warning letters.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the Corner Brook Fire Fighters Association Local 1222 will fight back against what they are calling an unjustified suspension.
Sparkes, president of Local 1222, would not comment on the suspension when contacted this week. Dave Burry, vice-president of International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) 15th district, also declined comment. However, later Thursday, a press release was issued.
Burry stated the city’s actions will be grieved, and the union will use whatever other legal channels necessary to fight back. The action is considered an attempt to prevent the union from exercising its right to represent its members.
“The Corner Brook Firefighters Association has a right and an obligation to participate in the discussion about public and firefighter safety,” the release stated. “We’re fighting back against this injustice, and we have no doubt we will be successful in the end. The city has no business telling the union what it can and cannot speak about when it comes to representing its members’ interests.
“That should be very clear.”
Corner Brook Mayor Neville Greeley also would not discuss the situation Thursday, saying he does not speak about personnel matters with anybody other than senior management.
The Corner Brook Firefighters Association took out an ad in The Western Star, which appeared online and in the print edition. It was entitled “Five questions to ask your Corner Brook candidates.”
The focus revolved around firefighter safety, the services provided by the department, the cost of the department to the city, re-investment into the force and asking the question: “Why is the Mayor and Council arguing that firefighting is costly on a per capita basis?”
It concluded with a message to the voters: “During this election, please vote to protect us, so we can protect you.”
When contacted Saturday prior to the suspension with a request for an interview, Greeley provided an emailed response.
He called the ad misleading and unacceptable, and that the union should not be causing unnecessary concern for the public. The mayor speculated it is a fear tactic meant to sway voters because the firefighters did not get everything they wanted in the last round of collective bargaining.
The union went more than a year without a new contract through some periods of tumultuous negotiations. A tentative agreement was signed, but later rejected by the membership.
Firefighters set a strike date, which was avoided when a second tentative deal was signed on the day of the deadline.
The turmoil continued when four firefighter positions were terminated the day the agreement — which included a 16 per cent wage increase over four years — was signed.
Greeley’s email said the city’s department had less than 400 calls for service — including false alarms, live fires and motor vehicle accidents — last year. The average is slightly more than one call per 24 hours of service, calculated the mayor, or about $10,000 per call.
“The biggest problem at our fire department is the trouble makers have far too much time on their hands to do anything but conspire,” he wrote in the email.
“Council has an obligation to provide a fair wage and safe environment. City staff is fairly compensated, and provided as safe an environment as possible within the constraints in which we operate.”
Greeley, who is not seeking re-election next week, also had a message for the voting public.
“Citizens should be wary of any candidate for office who chooses to ‘get in bed’ with any bargaining unit of the city,” he wrote.
To see the Corner Brook Firefighters Association IAFF Local 1222 ad, use the following short link: http://bit.ly/18ejsvu