Ok, firstly, lets not get wrapped up in the "Whys? And Wherefores" of why the restructure is happening, and more on the actual dynamics of what is happening. Its the "models" that I am most interested in, not being a "Union-Man", I know nothing about them.

Fire department shuffle hits snag

By Joanne Hatherly, Times Colonist February 12, 2010 1:12 AM

New troubles are smouldering at Esquimalt fire hall just as unionized firefighters and the town council take the first step toward restructuring the department, described in an audit last year as toxic and demoralized.

The union has until today to choose between one of two organizational models outlined in the audit conducted by retired judge Ted Hughes in 2009. If they fail to make a selection, council will step in and make the choice.

The two parties, however, have come to an impasse over the interpretation of the audit's recommendations on the fate of three firefighters who serve as unionized assistant fire chiefs.

The "Oak Bay" model -- favoured by the union -- would exclude three assistant chiefs and a deputy chief from the union, while under the "Captain" model, only the chief and deputy would hold excluded positions.

Hughes said in his report that no matter which model is selected, the three assistants would continue to hold their positions as long as they wanted to.

Esquimalt mayor Barbara Desjardins sees the recommendations as a guide only, however.

Should the union choose the Oak Bay model, council says it can advertise those positions and hire whomever it chooses.

"[The current assistant chiefs] can all apply for those exempt positions," Desjardins said.

Esquimalt council paid Hughes $60,000 to conduct the audit of its fire department, which had been crippled by sick time and overtime pay that Hughes found was triggered by low morale.

The firefighters' union will hold a vote to select one of the two models by today's deadline, but union president Alex Halliday is wrestling with how to recommend his members to vote. "It seems almost incredible to me that you would spend $60,000 on a report and then ignore those things it recommends, ram it through and suddenly expect everything will magically get better," Halliday said.

Desjardins noted there's been distrust in the past on both sides. "I think everybody is nervous," she said. "We are invested in this to make it work, and I'm hopeful that the firefighters are, too."

jhatherly@tc.canwest.com

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