Champlain Township firefighters have voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW) union, apparently to improve their working conditions.

A vote by secret ballot which involved volunteer firefighters from both the L’Orignal and Vankleek Hill fire stations took place recently. Each fire station has about 25 volunteer firefighters; they are paid for attending fire and emergency calls, but often voluntarily choose to forego payment for various community activities, including fundraising events.

According to a Business Wire press release, “In seeking representation from the USW, the firefighters have cited the need to have a meaningful, collective voice in addressing issues and concerns regarding the work they perform. Issues raised by firefighters include health and safety standards and equipment, the level of support for members who have experienced traumatic critical incidents and a lack of communication and responsiveness from township council.

“We tried a couple of times to speak to council at a meeting. They just shut the door on us,” said Jean-François Miner, one of the firefighters who joined the USW.

“We invited them to the fire hall to discuss our issues and no one even showed up. So we decided we needed to have a stronger voice,” said Miner.

The Review had contacted both the L’Orignal and the Vankleek Hill fire chiefs prior to the vote but both chiefs declined to comment. The move to unionize is said to have originated with the L’Orignal firefighters.

Now that the Champlain Township firefighters have voted to join the USW union, a bargaining committee will be formed and ultimately, a collective agreement will be negotiated with Champlain Township.