By Jennifer Gomori, MAFF Editor

After suffering significant cuts in their full-time staff and job responsibilities, Grand Rapids Township Fire Fighters decided to leave their former Union to join Michigan Association of Fire Fighters in December 2020.

“We used to have a total of seven full-time suppression people, but we’re down to three,” said Steve Hammond II, Treasurer of the Local Union board. maff logo 2007

The 19-member unit, comprised primarily of paid-on-call, was represented by United Auto Workers (UAW) just over 15 years. During that time, Township Fire Fighters first response duties were virtually eliminated.

“They cut us out of all medicals, even car accidents, unless somebody’s trapped,” Hammond said. “That’s one of the catalysts behind the change in unions. The former union, the UAW, didn’t do much to help us in that regard.”

“It makes people frustrated when fire service wants to help people and we can’t. We got into the business because we want to help people, not so we sit at the station and wait for bells to go off,” he said. “We’re all trained as medical first responders, which is required by the department even though we don’t run medicals.”

The new MAFF unit would really like to bring back some full-time staff and take on additional duties. Hammond said bringing back first response would also be a cost savings to the Township, which is paying nearly a quarter million dollars for their ambulance services.

“We can provide first response for free because we’re already here,” Hammond said. “That’s the only thing we wanted was to do our jobs. We’re willing to do more work … we want to run more calls.”

The cutbacks not only negatively impact morale, they’ve had a ripple effect on the department’s retention of fire fighters. “We’re losing our best people,” Hammond said. “We’ve lost a lot of our paid-on-call because they wanted to go to full-time departments.”

Their last agreement, like their first, locked them into another long-term contract, which ended up being very costly for the group. Their first contract was seven years followed by an eight-year agreement. “We’ve only ever had two contracts with them. The membership always wanted shorter contracts and the UAW never fought for us,” Hammond said. “When you sign a contract in downward economic times and it locks you in, it doesn’t do you any favors. We’re so far behind other local departments as far as wages go.”

With their bargaining agreement expiring March 31, 2021, MAFF Labor Relations Specialist Chad Trussler began meeting with the group in February to prepare for contract talks.

“That was their biggest complaint, the contract (term) was too long,” Trussler said, adding that wages, shift scheduling and language clarifications are also a concern. “A lot of the language in the contract doesn’t pertain.”

Grand Rapids Township Fire Fighters voted unanimously to join MAFF and have plenty of praise for their representation so far. "Everybody is extremely impressed with their professionalism, specifically, Chad’s attention,” Hammond said. “I feel like the attention we receive from MAFF and Chad is equal to the amount of attention Detroit Fire Fighters would get from the IAFF. Chad’s very dedicated to us and he’s very dedicated to getting us the things we need in our first contract.”