It has been an intense and scary wildfire season. We know you've been working to the max, and without adequate resources. Issues are flaring, as they have for years. We desperately need a work environment – and the public needs a fire management system – for the 21st century. And bargaining for our new collective agreement will begin soon. Here is what we hope to achieve in bargaining and through advocacy:
- Overall Pay: Increase overall pay to compensate for certifications that are typically performed and integral to carry out the operational needs of the BC Wildfire Service.
- Full Time Work: Provide options to convert all Officers, Crew Leaders and Dispatchers to full-time regular status after redefining the job profiles with their appropriate pay increases.
- Hazard Pay: Adopt a hazard pay structure similar to other wildfire agencies.
- A New Operational Emphasis BCWS: Revise and invest in the operational capacity of the BC Wildfire Service.
- Early Retirement: The government of British Columbia will advocate to recognize frontline workers in BCWS as Firefighters under the Canadian Income Tax Act, which allows early retirement for public safety professionals.
To achieve these changes, it is critical that we continue sharing our issues and concerns with each other, so we can organize, create, and act for solutions. Here's how to do that:
- Ask your steward to forward you our Wildfire Steward News Bulletins, which are produced and distributed every couple of months by our Article 29 Wildfire Sub-Committee (Wildfire Committee) who represent BCGEU members in Components 6, 12 and 20 working for the BC Wildfire Service. For more information about the committee, read the February 2021 bulletin. Bulletins from March/April 2021, and June/July 2021 are also available.
- Communicate concerns with your steward. Part of the steward role is to relay concerns to the Wildfire Committee who reviews and resolves union-related matters through regular meetings with the employer. The committee also organizes and brings these matters to the attention of our elected union reps on the component and executive level who have the means to amplify to other decision makers.
- If your base does not have a steward, or you're unclear who your steward is, email the Wildfire Committee directly at [email protected] with your concern and lack of steward.
- Attend the upcoming Wildfire Stewards Meeting in October. This meeting is open to all members, not just stewards, and will be a great opportunity to voice and organize our concerns and issues for bargaining. More details about date, time and place will be emailed as they are confirmed.
- Prepare a bargaining proposal. As you may be aware, we bargain our collective agreements alongside all other BCGEU members who work for the provincial government, through our union's Public Service Bargaining Committee. To do this effectively, the union has established a process for coordinating all members' proposals and needs. The first step in this process is to prepare and submit proposals, which you can do by completing this form and presenting it at your local meeting (scheduled over the next few weeks) or by submitting to your union local chairperson by Friday, October 1. For help with this process, contact your local chair. If you do present/submit a proposal, please copy the Wildfire Committee ([email protected]) so we're aware and can support. Reminder: Use your personal email (not the employer's) for bargaining correspondence.
- Update your contact information through https://my.bcgeu.ca/login to ensure you get all the important updates about bargaining.
As you do that, here's what we are doing:
- On September 1, our union representatives – including president Stephanie Smith, treasurer Paul Finch, Component 20 vice-president Rob Davis – met urgently with Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development, Katrin Conroy, and Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth to introduce our solution to create a working environment and fire management system for the "new normal" of B.C.'s wildfire situation: Professionalizing the BC Wildfire Service in partnership with BCGEU members – namely members of our Article 29 Wildfire Sub-Committee (Wildfire Committee). In the meeting, our reps articulated our concerns around wildfire response, and the urgent need to fix recruitment and retention issues. Read more about our proposed solution below.
- Paul Finch, on behalf of us, spoke out in the media about the problems facing workers of the BC Wildfire Service:
- August 25: BC Wildfire Service should be remade into a year-round professionalized service, BCGEU says (Radio NL 610 AM, Kamloops)
- September 2: Opinion: A union perspective on wildfire mismanagement in B.C. (North Thompson Star/Journal, Barriere)
Professionalizing the BC Wildfire Service
As mentioned above, the solution we've identified to create a working environment and fire management system for the "new normal" of B.C.'s wildfire situation is for the provincial government to professionalize BCWS in partnership with BCGEU members.
Specifically, we believe that a professionalized wildfire service must meet the following basic criteria:
- Sustainable over the long term. Recruitment and retention of skilled wildfire fighters employed year-round is necessary to ensure the shrinking "off season" is used for prevention and preparation. This will mean first addressing issues like low pay and lack of job security that result in low retention of highly trained professionals, especially in an increasingly competitive job market where wildfire fighters can seek employment in other jurisdictions or the private sector.
- Self-sufficient. Climate change is increasing wildfire activity across the globe, including in the jurisdictions B.C. used to rely on for assistance like Australia, the western United States and other provinces in Canada. British Columbia must build a wildfire service capable of protecting the people, communities, and ecosystems of our province.
- Properly resourced. As wildfire season starts earlier, lasts longer, and threatens more communities, the wildfire service must have the staff and infrastructure needed to protect the health and safety of crews, reduce fatigue and burnout, and ensure top-level operational capacity.
- Integrated with Indigenous communities and able to incorporate Indigenous-led fire management practices.
Paul Finch, BCGEU Treasurer
Rob Davis, BCGEU Vice President, Component 20
Members of the Article 29 Wildfire Sub-Committee (Wildfire Committee)
Nathan Sharp, BCGEU Staff Representative
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