The Edmonton Fire Fighter's Union, as it is known today, started its proud history back on May 15, 1917. Within the walls of number two fire hall, seventy-nine firefighters from the city's fire stations gathered together to discuss organizing.
The first motion adopted was "that the Edmonton Fire Department straightaway organize without the assistance of other civic departments." A committee was struck at this meeting and granted authority to solicit support from all their respective halls. An initial assessment of ten cents for each member was levied for the expenses of this committee, and any surplus would go to the paying of the Charter.
A second meeting of the committee occurred in fire hall 2 on the morning of May 22, 1917, to further discuss organizing. All committee members reported that there was overwhelming support from their halls to organize. Another meeting was called in the evening where all men were invited with the power to elect their first officers of the union. Each hall was given two votes and was to vote by proxy. A motion accepted at this meeting set the initiation fee at five dollars per member and monthly dues of fifty cents. Ten dollars was required for the Charter, with the balance to be placed in the union fund. On July 6, 1917, the Union Charter was granted and the official formation of the Fire Fighter’s Federal Labour Union 29.
On July 11, 1917, a motion was passed that "owing to the high cost of living and the men at present work twenty four hours per day that we at once take steps to meet the council and ask that we receive an adjustment of salaries and one day off in four." This laid the groundwork for the Union representing the Firefighters of the City of Edmonton to negotiate proper salaries and working conditions, which continues to this day.
Meetings of the Firefighters occurred weekly over a period of time with numerous motions adopted which put in place the Charter, principles, and organization of this new Union. Not surprisingly, the tone of the membership was consistent with that of a fine union, and not unlike the membership of today, had the interests of its members and other labour groups in the forefront. This Union’s compassion for people became apparent on December 15, 1917, wherein the membership voted the establishment of a fund for the famous Halifax disaster. A levy of one dollar per member was passed to go towards this fund. This type of compassion has been demonstrated time and time again throughout the fine history of this Union.
January of 1918 brought discussion with the Commissioners regarding paying of "doctors' bills for sickness," which was the beginning groundwork for our health and welfare package. Given their interest in local and national issues, the Union also explored the benefits of joining the "National Union of Firemen."
A special meeting was called January 19, 1918, to discuss the appointment of the new Fire Chief, who came from outside the department. A resolution was adopted and signed by all of the members which "... insisted that the City of Edmonton observe the terms of the Collective Agreement arrived at on the eleventh day of December, 1917, between the members of the Fire Fighters' Federal Labour Union 29 and the City of Edmonton ... in particular in the matter of the appointment of a fire chief. We insist upon due observation of that term of the Collective Agreement providing that in all promotions due consideration will be given to seniority of service, and for this reason, we will refuse to accept the appointment of R.D. Davidson or the appointment of any other person who is not in the service of the Fire Department, and who, therefore, cannot be appointed consistent with the terms of the Agreement." This is notably the Edmonton Fire Fighter's Union's first grievance.
A special meeting of the membership was called on February 1, 1918, where a strike vote was called and members walked out over the appointment of the Fire Chief. All members were to remain out until a written statement was signed and sealed by the city of Edmonton. It was further moved that each fire hall be picketed.
The membership met on a daily basis during the walkout to ensure that their job action was effective. The Fire Fighters’ Federal Labour Union 29 had the support of allied trade unions and some Aldermen to pressure the Mayor to call for a Board of Conciliation.
As a result of the unified efforts of this membership and other labour unions, this violation of the Collective agreement was overturned and Captain Davies was appointed to the position of Fire Chief. At the meeting of March 6, 1918, 4:30 pm, Chief Davies asked that all men report at the various halls at 5:00 pm.
This was an example of the labour tradition that was developed early within the Edmonton Fire Fighters’ Union, and continues to this day. The current Collective Agreement that exists between the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Fire Fighter’s Union is built upon the efforts and struggles for improved working conditions by generations of Firefighters and it Union Officers, to which all current Firefighters within the City of Edmonton and abroad are fraternally grateful.