Collective bargaining and binding arbitration are being attacked by politicians around the country. As a firefighter I’d like to explain one particular benefit to having these rules in place.
But first I’ll give you a brief and generic overview of what collective bargaining and binding arbitration mean. Collective bargaining is how local governments negotiate with their public employees by providing a set of rules that level the playing field between the bosses and their subordinates. If a fair deal cannot be agreed upon between the two parties, the contract goes to an arbitrator who looks at similar-sized communities (along with many other factors) and rules on what he/she believes is fair. Sometimes the bosses get what they want and sometimes the employees do. The arbitrator’s decision becomes the contract, hence binding arbitration. This isn’t about cops and firefighters wanting lavish paydays. It is about the safety of firefighters and police officers as well as you, the public.
As many of you realize, salary and benefits are not the only aspect of contract negotiations. I’d like to tell you about another more critical concern. I’ll use a specific example as it relates to firefighting to help me with my point. Without negotiating power, the city can come to contract negotiations with a plan of down-staffing the number of firefighters per fire truck from four to three thus saving the city money. The firefighters come to the bargaining table with data proving that fewer firefighters on the fire truck directly correlates to an increased number of civilian fatalities and firefighter injuries and death. I think you would agree this is an important issue. Without collective bargaining and binding arbitration the city could simply implement their plans. That’s it. No more discussion. We as a union would have no options.
You might comment that the city’s offer would likely meet minimum safety regulations and you would be correct. Except we all know minimum safety regulations are just that–minimum. Did you spend extra money on your last vehicle because it had a better crash rating? Maybe not. But would you allow the manufacturer to remove the airbags if it saved them a few bucks?
That is but one example of how public safety will be affected by doing away with collective bargaining. Without collective bargaining and binding arbitration, public employees will be forced to rely on politicians to treat us fairly and do what’s best for us along with the ones we protect. That’s a scary prospect, if you ask me.
If your local elected officials are attacking collective bargaining, give them a call and let them know you don’t like the idea. We, as firefighters and public employees, only want to do our jobs and be as safe as possible in doing them.