OPSEU, MNR await ruling

The Ministry of Natural Resources here and striking public service workers are awaiting a ruling from the Ontario Labour Relations Board about whether local fire crews must cross picket lines for training.
On Wednesday, about 18 local forest fire crew members were called in for mandatory training by the MNR.
But when they arrived, they were told by fellow picketers that because there hasn’t been a declaration of a fire emergency, training was not an essential service and they couldn’t cross the picket lines.
After a brief meeting, the crews dispersed—only to be called back again yesterday and this morning to try again.
“We are disputing management’s claim that we are in a fire emergency situation,” said Bob Dakin, president of OPSEU Local #711.
“A valid declaration of fire emergency would compel us in the union to allow our people to cross the picket lines for training but that hasn’t happened,” he noted.
While a fire emergency situation hasn’t been declared, Matt Myers, fire management supervisor in Fort Frances, said crews should be trained now.
“The time for training is not when fires are burning but before fires are reported,” he stressed yesterday afternoon.
Myers has said the main fire season is still two-three weeks away because of the amount of snowfall Northwestern Ontario received in March.
But earlier this week, crews had to battle a 40-hectare brush fire near Thunder Bay.
After meeting with the union yesterday, Myers said they have filed a dispute with the labour board. He said a decision was expected today.
“We’re confident we will be able to resolve this issue here in Fort Frances,” he said.