There are over 300,000 firefighters belonging to 3,200 local unions. All of these members contribute a good amount of money to cover the cost of representation. Union dues are collected and then paid out to different local and International organizations that help represent all the departments. It’s a great system that provides enormous resources like salary and benefit comparisons, health and safety statistics, and even resources to help conduct safe training sessions. There are a few things that need to be looked at to make sure your locl is on the right track.
Whenever someone pays for something they want to make sure they are getting the amount of representation that they are paying for. For Union officials, getting everyone to feel equally represented can be difficult, negotiating issues does not always affect everyone equally.
One particular issue that isn’t always seen as fair is health insurance. It’s not the health insurance that is the problem it is the amount that is paid by the employer for single versus family members. Employers usually contribute a percentage of the premium, which means the employer is paying more for the insurance of a member who has a family than they are for the single employee.
Promotional preference points, and vacation time are also issues that we don’t all see as equal.
Just like many organizations when it’s time to get work done it’s hard to find people to step up. 80% of the work is usually done by 20% of the members. It is often difficult to find members to step up because they are afraid of retaliation, or being looked badly upon by administration. As a Union official you are going to have to confront administration from time to time and that makes a lot of us feel uncomfortable.
When it comes to money we are all afraid to ask questions.
Every member has the right to know what is being done with their dues that the local collects. Periodic treasurer reports should be available, and a good treasurer will be glad to answer any questions that are raised. When people are afraid to step in and ask questions like “How much did we spend to send those two guys to convention?” money issues can become trouble.
There have been a good number of Locals that get too lenient with their money and spending gets out of hand. Regular audits and good bookkeeping are essential. There needs to be clear rules about spending and all spending needs to be published for all members to see.
Most Locals have had bylaws in place for a long time, and probably have never really read them. Outdated bylaws, or bylaws that aren’t followed can get you into serious trouble.
Bylaws need to spell out very specifically procedures for election of officers. Other items included in bylaws are terms of officers, grievance procedures, and even the audit procedure
Be sure your local is being run properly and not by union officers that are serving to promote their personal interests. Union officers are there to serve the entire Local and not to negotiate things that serve themselves better. Get involved, ask questions, and don’t be afraid to run for that union position.
Unions were formed to give everyone fair treatment, do your part to see that things in your local are being done right.