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Labor Management Issues


By John Morse

Getting along in the fire service means a lot more than just getting along with the guys you work with.  You need to get along with police, public works and the public.  One of the most difficult places to get along is at the negotiating table.  Sometimes the simplest issues escalate to enormous proportions.  When we look at the time we all waste at resolving these simple issues, it can be embarrassing.

One of the hottest topics these days not only in the fire service is medical insurance.  Government regulations and rising costs of medical care can take a huge dollar amount out of our budgets, whether we are firefighters or a village.  Family coverage premiums can be as much as $2000 per month.  No matter who has to pay that premium, it is a lot of money.  I don’t know who came up with the term “affordable health care” but that really doesn’t exist.

One of the greatest things about being a firefighter was the benefits.  We sacrificed higher salaries for good insurance and job security.  Family health insurance was always covered at 100% and the deductibles were small.  Today high premiums force firefighters to high deductible health plans with deductibles as high as $2500 per person. When administration tries to mess with our insurance we get really angry, and realistic thinking from either side goes out the window.  If you want to mess with employee relations or morale, just mention changing the insurance.

Insurance is a good example of what happens when emotions overtake logical thinking.  Labor relations are simple in a lot of circumstances but there are some issues that always cause trouble.  Promotions, disciplinary procedures, and time off issues are always difficult.  If we were all to sit down and discuss these issues about another department on the other side of the country, it would be a lot simpler. When we talk about how these issues affect us personally it is much harder.

The issue of fairness always comes to the forefront when we talk about promotions.  I have been involved in negotiation sessions that lasted for days to make sure we had a procedure that was flawless.  Unfortunately, even before that plan was implemented we had disagreements and grievances flying.  When medical insurance premiums are increased for family coverage and not for single coverage, things get difficult.

So how do we eliminate all the personal emotions and discuss issues like they were the department 1000 miles away?  First and most important is to not put any one’s name into the issues.  You are not making decisions to promote fireman Eric, over fireman Kevin.  You are deciding on the best procedure to fairly promote competent people.

I remember a specific instance where I did not know the names of the individuals involved.  It seemed a lot easier to think things through.  I let everyone know I didn’t know, and did not want to know which individuals were affected.  That lasted about 10 minutes, until someone on the administrative side used the names of the firefighters affected.

It’s not about helping your buddy or screwing the guy you don’t like.  When you are in a position to make decisions or recommendations for your department, respect your position and make decisions for the good of the department.  It doesn’t matter if it is insurance or promotions, it’s always the same procedure.  Since you are human the first thing you are going to do is see how the change affect you.  But right after that, make sure the changes don’t harm anyone else on the department.  It’s not personal, just make sure it is fair.

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