By Jennifer Gomori, MAFF Editor

Stockbridge Paid-on-Call (POC) Fire Fighters were tired of being ignored by their Employer when they asked for paid training, safety improvements and fair working conditions, so they unionized, joining Michigan Association of Fire Fighters (MAFF) in September.

Safety is among the top concerns for the fire fighters, some of whom are lacking the proper certified gear and equipment to do their jobs. The condition of the fire department is also a safety issue. The 16-member unit, which is part of the Stockbridge Area Emergency Services Authority (S.A.E.S.A.), has already seen some movement by their Employer.

“We’ve got black mold growing in the fire station that they haven’t done anything about,” said a POC S.A.E.S.A. fire fighter, who preferred to remain anonymous. “I walked around eight months with holes in my uniform. One guy didn’t have gloves for four months. Safety is a big thing and the equal treatment.”

“I just got my bunker pants back from being fixed when they found out a Union was starting,” the S.A.E.S.A. fire fighter said. “They had to have that patched in order to be NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) compliant. They didn’t want the Union to come in, that’s the reason they fixed them.”

He said there was special treatment for some members, who received paid training, while others did not. The non-preferred fire fighters were told by department supervisors to pay for their own training and equipment.

“If any of us chose to go (to training), we had to pay out of pocket,” he said. “Everybody’s just tired of it. Eleven dollars an hour is basically (working for) free. I’ll buy things for the fire department to make me better. We didn’t need that dividing line anymore. We are hoping the Union can help us, and management sees us more as an equal, instead of below them.”

There were also issues with members of the On-Call department being disciplined by superiors for not making it to all calls. Those same supervisors have a record of responding far less often to calls, the POC S.A.E.S.A. fire fighter said.

“I guess the biggest thing is mismanagement, not being treated fairly - certain individuals being shown more favoritism than others,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a brotherhood. We all have to depend on each other to go home at the end of the night and it wasn’t working out that way before.”

“They were being disciplined unjustly,” said MAFF Labor Relations Specialist Joe O’Connor. “I think that’s their main reason for wanting to organize.”

All members of the department are Paid-on-Call, however supervisors receive an annual salary ranging from $2,000-$5,000 plus the $11 per hour for responding to calls. “They are still considered Paid-On-Call, but they have a guaranteed amount of pay they receive no matter if they make any calls or not. They’re considered management,” the POC S.A.E.S.A. fire fighter said.

The group decided on MAFF representation after hearing from Chelsea Area Fire Authority employees who are pleased MAFF union members. “MAFF’s the only one that represents volunteer Paid-On-Call. None of the others do, even though we all have the same training, the same certificates,” the POC S.A.E.S.A. fire fighter said.

Prior to unionization, he said, “There was no sitting down - no negotiations whatsoever. They said ‘This is what you get. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.’”

So they did - Stockbridge POC went to MAFF. Now they have a collective voice that’s being heard and favoritism is not on the agenda.