Ottawa firefighters grievance denied for safety concerns

48-hour shifts reverted to 24-hour shifts

A recent grievance from Ottawa’s Local 523 Firefighters was a topic of a closed session meeting of the Ottawa City Council on Tuesday that resulted in the grievance being denied for safety reasons.

The firefighters union filed a grievance concerning a recent change in the city’s department work schedule from the current 48-hours shift with 96 hours off to the non-negotiated 24 hours on and 48 hours off. The change will take effect in the new year.

Mayor Bob Eschbach explained to media after the meeting that the negotiated contract allowed the city to revert to 24-hour shifts if the council and fire chief could determine safety was compromised.

“The chief (Andy Borkowski) is of the opinion that safety is compromised. For example, we have more accidents on the second 24-hour part of the shift than the first 24-hour part of the shift,” Eschbach said. “We’ve also looked at various studies, particularly with respect to our medics, that say fatigue and so forth results in less efficient and safe service after 24 hours. In fact, many of the studies say that there shouldn’t even be 24-hour shifts for medics.”

He added that around 85 to 95 percent of calls are medic calls.

The Times was unable to speak to the union Tuesday night following the decision.

An earlier letter signed by all department firefighters was given to the council at a meeting in early November stating the decision to change to a 24-hour work schedule should be handled in collective bargaining and that the “unilateral violation of the contract has brought morale to an all-time low and should not be implemented.”

The union claimed in November that the 48-hour work schedule, unanimously approved by members in 2013, was a way that successfully implemented non-emergency transfer that raised revenue for the city and allowed for more continuous off-time for firefighters to spend with family.

Eschbach added that negotiation can be done in the future.

“Most of them like it and it works out well for them and I’m not denying that, but our primary concern has to be for the safety of the department and our citizens,” he said.