By Doreen Dennis
MADISONVILLE, Ky. — More than half of the city’s 60 firefighters voted last summer to organize under the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO, which has 300,000 members in the U.S. and Canada.
The group received its charter membership on Dec. 17, said Henry Strader, president of the Madisonville Professional Fire Fighters Local 4921, which is part of the western Kentucky district.
Of the seven departments in the district, he said Madisonville was the only group not included in the union.
Several members said the department wanted to join the union to have more flexibility participating in fundraisers as a group, the sense of brotherhood and having a unified voice.
“Unions are set up for workers to have a voice in safety concerns or if they feel they are mistreated in any way,” Strader said. “Workers can bring concerns forth without worrying about repercussions.”
Chief Steve Stoltz did not wish to comment on the union.
Mayor David Jackson believes the city has always had a great relationship with firefighters and will continue to do so.
He doesn’t foresee any problems associated with the union affiliation.
“They have the cohesiveness with other departments in the region,” he said. “We have a great group of firefighters and we are very blessed to have them. They have always protected the safety of the city and put the public first.”
Even though firefighters will have collective bargaining power concerning wages, it’s illegal for the union to go on strike because fire departments are public service providers.
Part of the union dues paid by members support the IAFF, which consists of a political action committee/lobbyist group called FIREPAC. The group is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
A portion of the union dues are held in a local account set up for fundraisers or to help out members of the Fire Department, Strader said. He did not wish to disclose the amount of dues collected from each union member.
According to the the labor union’s website, the organization’s purpose is providing firefighters and paramedics with tools they need to do their jobs. In addition, the IAFF stated it provides a strong voice to implement new training, equipment and to ensure proper staffing at fire and EMS departments.
The administration at the Fire Department is not part of the union, Strader said, but union members may vote to later include them. Normally, the union does not include management positions.
“Hopefully it will make the chief’s job easier,” he said. “It’s easier for him to come to me versus 60 different people.”
Strader said the city has in no way mistreated firefighters. Establishing a union had nothing to do with problems of any kind, he said.
Members believe the union will open doors for firefighters to make a difference in the community. Firefighters want to represent the department through the flexibility of the union in helping build houses for Habitat for Humanity and strengthening its Kid’s Challenge program.
Money is tight, said Fire Prevention Officer Kevin Cotton, who is a union member. He said the group plans to hold fundraisers to help pay for items used in the Kid’s Challenge obstacle course, which was set up at venues like Kidapalooza and Friday Night Live last year.
“We’ve had a lot of community support, which is my passion,” he said. “We have the potential to do more through the union.”
Strader said the union also offers group savings on home and car insurance, in addition to scholarship opportunities for members’ children.
Engineer Shane Rigney believes the union is a positive step in having a representative at City Council meetings. He said it will also be beneficial in having a representative approach the chief with any personnel or equipment issues.
Training officer Kerri Scisney, who has been at the department for 20 years, said the union gives firefighters a sense of brotherhood.
“I’m a charter member,” she said. “I’m leaving it up to the younger men to put forth their ideas. It’s about pride and ownership.”
Lt. Alex Smith said he hasn’t signed on yet, but plans to do so.
Strader said the union also will allow retirees continue to be active in the union.
“When guys retire, we hardly see them any more,” he said. “This will allow them to stay on as a retired member.”
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