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Date last updated: Thursday, January 4, 16:07 PST

The Fire Fighter Union Movement and the Volunteer Fire Service

(NOTE: This week's column is written by a career firefighter from Austin TX, Adam Kinnon. I know there have been many discussions on the issue of unions and volunteers, but I thought his point of view as a career firefighter was interesting.. -JZ)

The career fire service in America is comprised of approximately 350,000 fire fighters. The volunteer fire service numbers over 800,000. The International Association of Fire Fighters boasts a membership of approximately 260,000 of the career fire fighters. As other sectors of the union movement dwindle to record lows, government worker’s unions are on the rise. It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of IAFF members are utilizing the union for local purposes. Most fire fighters are unaware of the larger labor movement and the problems arising from the IAFF and its affiliates violating the individual rights of fire fighters.

The IAFF takes an anti volunteer stance which is demonstrated by the fact that their constitution prohibits members from volunteering. The union leadership defends their stance by indicating their locals are autonomous. They leave the enforcement of their constitution to the individual local. The IAFF has demonstrated that they will vehemently support locals that pursue an anti volunteer stance and keep their hands off the locals that support their, “Two hatters”. Maintaining affiliation, membership, and the influx of money is more important to them than pushing their agenda on the members.

There are a number of ways that the IAFF is attempting to put pressure on fire fighters not to volunteer. The members that buy into this can file charges on members who volunteer. The fire fighter who volunteers will be forced to resign from the IAFF or quit volunteering. Another way is by passing collective bargaining contracts which state specifically that fire fighters may not volunteer in their off duty time. Collective Bargaining along with Presumptive Health Care legislation is being used to push the IAFF agenda.

Career fire fighters must understand that Civil Service and Collective Bargaining legislation at the state level usually contain a Preemptive clause. This allows contractual agreements to over ride any and all state laws, rules, and regulations. The first collective bargaining contract negotiated by my department last year circumvented State Right to Work law regarding the method used to assess sick time from members to support union activities. As a non union member I am not allowed to negotiate or vote on the contracts.

The trends and actions of the IAFF at the state and federal level show, with out a doubt, that their intention is to grow their membership, expand their control over the member’s actions, and grow the larger labor movement coffers to support politics which are often at odds with a large percentage if not the majority of the members. They are attempting to shift control of the fire service to the state and federal level through legislation concerning minimum staffing and NFPA 1710.

Fire Fighters are being put in the unfortunate position of fighting the very people who are supposed to be there to protect them. Fire Fighter’s First Amendment rights to freedom of affiliation are being violated solely for the growth and political interests of the IAFF. It’s time to stop sugar coating the situation we find ourselves in. When entities trample individual rights of Americans it leaves us no choice but to look for positive ways to influence legislation to protect our freedoms and to protect the future generations of fire fighters.

We need to start educating career fire fighters and motivate them to demand that the union actually work as the representative democracy it claims to be. We need to create lobbying teams that represent existing and future organizations that truly represent the will of volunteer and career fire fighters. These organizations must put personal liberties before the interests of the Larger Labor Movement’s aggressive strategic agenda of growing their union and control of the fire service at the expense of the members. We must protect the ability of smaller communities to determine the level of protection as it relates to the tax base. When these issues we speak of are reduced to the lowest common denominator we are left with the question of individual freedom.

I am a career fire fighter in Austin, TX. I was an IAFF member for ten years. We need to provide an avenue for career fire fighters to express their support of the volunteer fire service. Career fire fighters along with the volunteer fire service working together could create a legislative voice that would trump the will of the labor movement and protect our individual freedoms.

Adam Kinnon

Thomas Jefferson:

Most bad government has grown out of too much government.

Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have ... The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases.

Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.

Ben Franklin:

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Here are some examples of union abuse, short quotes, and a link to read more.

Canadian Federal Law protecting volunteers blocked by IAFF

Ontario legislators rejected Bill 30, the Volunteer Firefighters Employment Protection Act, by a decisive 52-37 vote at Queen’s Park in Toronto on December 11. The result constitutes a resounding victory for Ontario’s professional fire fighters and confirms the right of IAFF affiliates to discipline members who violate the International’s Constitution.

Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union bringing fire fighters up on charges.

On a related matter, there are still many IAFF members that continue to violate the IAFF Constitution and By-Laws by serving as members of volunteer or paid on call departments. If questioned about it, most of them try to rationalize that their situation is unique and that somehow the rules don’t apply to them. No matter what excuse or explanation may be offered by these individuals, there are NO exceptions!! If you know of someone doing this, ask him or her to stop. If they refuse, then it is imperative that someone files charges against them. Any member in good standing can do so. Call the MPFFU office if you need assistance.

Hartford Union Contract Prohibiting Volunteering

WASHINGTON, DC (July 1, 2003) -- On behalf of volunteer firefighters across the country, I condemn in the strongest possible terms the new contract between the city of Hartford, Connecticut and the Hartford Fire Fighters Association forbidding full-time firefighters to serve as volunteers in their home communities. It is amazing that in a time when there is a revived push led by President Bush for volunteerism across the country, the city of Hartford and the local union have the gall to try to tell firefighters they cannot serve their local communities during off-duty hours.

National Volunteer Fire Council Report for HR4107 Hearings

The House version also includes important volunteer non-discrimination language prohibiting a fire department that receives grant funds from discriminating against, or prohibiting its members from engaging in volunteer activities in another jurisdiction during off-duty hours. This clause, similar to the language that was included in the SAFER Bill passed in Congress last year, begins to address the growing concern we have about an individual's right to volunteer. Cities such as Hartford, West Hartford, East Hartford, Waterbury, Fairfield, New Britain, Connecticut, West Allis, Wisconsin and Ft. Wayne, Indiana currently prohibit their firefighters from volunteering.

Federal Hearings on HR4107 Fire Fighter Assistance Grants

This is a must see site. Read Kevin O’Conner’s whole testimony. This describes the Union stance on Collective Bargaining and Volunteer Discrimination.

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