A controversial new proposal to cut overtime expenses at Winnipeg’s fire department will put staff and citizens at risk, according to the firefighters’ union.
In an internal memo publicly leaked by the union on Sept. 18, acting fire chief Bill Clark urged city council to implement changes that would offset rising overtime costs.
“Our department has been experiencing a massive impact to our budget due to the expense to backfill positions with overtime,” Clark said. “This is not sustainable, and the department has been working to find solutions to offset these costs, without making an impact on public or member safety.”
According to Clark, the fire department’s overtime projection for the year has increased by 86 per cent, compared to last year.
In order to reduce hefty overtime expenses, department officials suggested having a select number of secondary fire units redeployed or left idle until needed during peak periods. Those select units would also be converted from four down to two-member squad units.
But the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) slammed the policy, saying it will limit their ability to effectively do their job.
“It will mean that we will not have the proper number of firefighters available and we will not be able to respond with industry standards. Less staff means our job has become more dangerous,” said Alex Forrest, president of UFFW Local 867. “Not only does this go against industry standards for safety response protocols, but it is also a direct violation of the collective agreement.”
Further complicating the matter is that the fire department has recently had 34 staff retire and 15 go on long-term disability – but no new hires since January, Forrest explained, and as such, overtime costs have spiked.
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