By Jennifer Gomori, MAFF Editor

Over the past decade, Grand Blanc Township Fire Department changed the way it operates, transitioning from a Paid-on-Call to a staffed department. Now, the Part-Time Firefighters want stronger, more experienced representation, so they chose Michigan Association of Fire Fighters (MAFF).

Grand Blanc Township had an entirely Paid-on-Call department responding to more than 600 calls per year untilmaff logo 2007 voters approved a millage in 2010. That allowed the fire department to hire Full-Time and Part-Time Firefighters to staff a fire station around the clock.

The group was with their former Union for the past decade, but as the department continues transitioning away from a Paid-on-Call operation, the Part-Time Firefighters were looking for better representation that is more in tune with their changing needs, said Ryan Jeltema, Grand Blanc Township Part-Time Firefighters Local Union Secretary.

With about 30 Part-Time Firefighters, they wanted a Union that understood their specific concerns. In February 2023, they voted in favor of MAFF following an impressive MAFF presentation, which included their new Labor Relations Specialist Gregg Allen.

“I really came away with a feeling these are the guys I want fighting for me in negotiations, in a grievance,” Jeltema said. “They understand the issues that are important to me and have the knowledge and experience to get in a fight and get things done for us.”

MAFF is representing the unit for the remainder of their contract negotiated by their former Union, which expires July 2024. 

“We’re reaching a pivotal moment in the history of our department, taking more steps toward a new staffing model. The way we operate is totally different than Paid-on-Call,” Jeltema said. “We needed a different representation with a stronger voice. We brought it before the members and thankfully it passed. They are representing us and enforcing our current contract while trying to put pieces in place to negotiate something new.”

The Grand Blanc Township Part-Time Firefighters approved a 5-year contract in 2019 with annual wage increases and some ancillary raises in other pay categories.

“Subsequently, we’ve fallen behind on pay,” he said. “We discovered the township cashier only makes a dollar less than we do per hour. Cadets in our police department, who are mostly uncertified college students, are making almost the same as what we are. We are dramatically underpaid. Just looking at how the Township pays other employees, we are putting our lives on the line and we make basically the same money as a cashier.”

Financially, the group’s hands were tied being locked into a 5-year bargaining agreement when the pandemic hit.

“We got 3 percent raises and we thought we were striking gold, but you see what happened with inflation over the past five years,” he said. “Three percent is not going to keep up with 8 to 10 percent inflation over the past couple years.”

They also didn’t feel like their former Union understood concerns specific to their profession and that ultimately hampered their safety. One issue is diesel exhaust from fire vehicles getting into the living quarters of the fire stations.

They had heard about the Union’s noteworthy reputation from area fire departments represented by MAFF, including Burton and Mundy Township, and knew MAFF would be more in tune with how to handle these types of issues.

“We just didn’t have that voice there for the last 2-1/2 years, living in a station with one door separating us from trucks idling. Our lockers are out there with the trucks exposed to the exhaust,” Jeltema said. “That’s something where MAFF, having a lot of staff members who previously worked in a fire station, would see these things and say, ‘Hey that’s not right.’ They could do grievances or whatever we have to do to make the station safe.”

MAFF was chosen to help the unit members feel heard and seen, promoting future staff retention through improved representation.

“We need to be more vocal to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe and we just weren’t getting that,” Jeltema said. “If we don’t get some pay increases and get this contract right, we are going to lose a bunch of experienced people. That really calls into question the future of the department if we can’t keep good, quality, experienced people around.”