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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Union 101

I decided a while back that I would not use this blog as a voice for my role as a Union Official. I enjoy the fact that at least some of you realize that when I write on here it is me as a firefighter and not as one of my other roles.

I learned that many of you all did not like to hear some of what I had to say as a Union Official in this unofficial forum.

I am not changing that stance. What I write below comes as a firefighter, not as a Union Official, however it has everything to do with the Union.

The other day at at a Union Meeting, I had the pleasure of answering a question that boggled my mind. A firefighter stopped by to borrow some items from the Union. Items which the Union owns and regularly allows members to borrow. It just so happens that the member stopped by minutes before a Union meeting. He asked what we were doing there. I told him we were there for a meeting. Then he asked "What do you guys do at the meeting?". In which I responded we are planning out his career. He had no comment.

What did I mean by my answer. Simply, the Union is asked questions from members at each meeting which we are then tasked to find answers to. These questions range from simple to complex.

The meeting also serves as a continuing business plan for the direction in which we travel on various issues.

When I get around to various stations, which I do frequently, I am often asked what the Union is doing about this or that. My question is who are you referring to?

The Union is every member. Not anyone person more than another.

When asked why the Union is doing something, I usually offer the answer "because that is what the members voted to do.

That is where members are usually uneducated about the process. Why are they uneducated about Union business? I don't know the answer to that. I can offer some suggestions.
  1. They don't care
  2. They don't know when the meetings are
  3. They don't think they have a voice in the Union
  4. They don't have time
  5. They aren't willing to make time
I know that most members work 2 jobs and are involved in their children's sports, Church, and other things. So are most of the members who are involved. There aren't too many members who make it to every meeting, or that sign on to be in a bunch of committees. However, if we have members who are willing to allot a couple of hours each month at helping the Union move forward we would be able to accomplish so much more.

In the future, with hopes of the new Collective Bargaining Bill passing, we will rely on more and more member involvement to get initiatives planned and processed. The handful of extremely active members we have now will be very busy planning out and carrying out the negotiations which come along with collective bargaining. These negotiations and the contract to follow will be written by our members. You will have to have a voice in what you would like to see changed in order for your ideas to be heard.

I know that many members have lost interest due to the proceedings of Union meetings and issues in the past. Things have changed. I have been to most of the meetings in the past 4 years and I can say that the bitch sessions have ended.

These same issues we had in the past are the reason why I stopped going to Union meetings shortly after being hired. Ever since realizing that I wanted to be a Career Firefighter, I wanted to be a member of the IAFF. I understand what the IAFF stands for and I want to be a part of making my workplace, my career, my lifestyle better.

Many of you get a kick out of asking what the IAFF has done for you. I can say that rarely does the IAFF walk away with bad news. Many of the things that you take for granted were awarded at the Local, State, and Federal level. Three big initiatives are the Heart/Lung Bill, the Presumptive Laws, and soon to be Collective Bargaining.

Each meeting, we bring up the proper process for Workers Compensation Claims. This issue has been talked about in depth for the last year. However, we still have members who do not know. Why not? The word is not getting out.

I know that many of you do not like to hear "Come to a Union Meeting and you will find out". Well the comment could not be more clear. I know that the days after a Union Meeting I am tasked with giving a brief synopsis of the meeting to many of the members I come in contact with. I don't mind filling you guys in, but it sure would be easier if you guys were there. I cannot guarantee that I will remember everything.

At the meetings, when something new is brought up which requires action, we are tasked with finding someone to carry it out. Inevitably, this person already has a lot on their plate and due to lack of involvement by others, these persons have to do more.

Don't think that for a moment our Union is any different from most others. When I go out of town to conventions, seminars, and meetings I find the same issues to plague many other locals.

More than likely you can measure the amount of involvement by realizing how much a Union succeeds in its endeavors. Currently, your Union is working on many initiatives and trying to mediate many issues which directly effect you.

If you have any questions about getting involved contact your Shift Vice President, Shift Steward, come to the next meeting on September 24th, or contact me.

By the way, it doesn't matter whether you have been here 25 years or 25 days, you still have a voice.


Anonymous said...

why are we paying union dues?? i dont believe the union does anything to help our carreers or make our worklife any better. what exactly has the union done for any particular person or group in the Roanoke Fire-EMS department over the past 20 years.
the reason we dont go to the meetings is because our issues are never handled. have fun on your next trip that I payed for.

FireFleitz said...

Whether your comments are heart felt or simply inflammatory, this is exactly the issue I am speaking of. I just outlined several huge initiatives the IAFF has done, yet your ignorance still gets the best of you.

Anonymous said...

I believe what the person was saying was what is the local doing for us. Not the IAFF, we see what they are doing for firefighters around the country, many of our members want to know what our "LOCAL" is doing for us. The local issues aren't getting met or addressed and that is frustrating. Most of the city council members think we are a joke anyway, to them we are a bunch of lazy crybabies. When are we going to do something about how we are perceived and when are we going to fight for the Roanoke City Firefighters as a group not what your close buddies care about, with the new local website more issues can be voted on there also. I could go on and on about local union issues but this isn't the placec for it and who would do anything about it.

FireFleitz said...

I understand what you are saying. This is the point I am trying to make. You don't know what the Local has done, yet you realize that we need to get it together.

Maybe you should get involved and find out what the Local has done and why other things haven't gotten done.

There is more to the Local than big initiatives like raising the multiplier (which the Local succeeded in doing). There are a lot of small mundane items which must be taken care of that you might not ever hear about.

You want to talk about public perception. How much did you collect at the Fill the Boot this year, which is a great PR event? None, right. Well just up the road, Fairfax raised more than any other Local in America. How does the public view them? I bet they have an easier time asking there powers that be for things.

Anonymous said...

Rhett, i would have to agree with the last post, I have been in the union since 1991, the 3 issues that you speak so proudly of, one of which is only a promise, as of now! And the other 2 are no more than paper promises, The heart and lung, which i no of no one that has benefited from this bill with in our department. And if someone has i am unaware of it. On the other hand i have seen alot of guys sweating bullets when their physical's come due. over tobacco and weight, which would fall under the heart & lung bill. I think what the last post is looking for along with a lot of other guys, is something on the local level here in our own back yard,so to speak. I understand that you cant take on city hall and always win. But instead of wasting time and alot of money sending only a few guys to D.C., golf trips. Lets get back to getting all of the membership involved in family picnics and cookouts, a lot of young guys have never been to a meeting because they are not interested in a trip to D.C. and they cant play GOLF ! So before you speak of ignorance set down and take a look at the big picture. If what the Union is doing now is not pulling the crowd, maybe we should change it up alittle. S Mutter

FireFleitz said...


If it isn't pulling the crowd then the members should seek change. Ever since I have been in the Department, it hasn't pulled the crowd. There is too much of a feeling that the members are entitled to everyone else doing the legwork. That is why I got involved when I did. I found a niche and helped out.

The Executive Board is set up to inform the members and then act out what the membership wants.

As far as golf goes, I have yet to see any of our members golf at a meeting, convention, or seminar. The ones I have been to are all business. I suggest that most members seek out going to an event and they will see how much they can learn.

The Local is only as strong as its members. We need to get more members involved.

Anonymous said...

Now don't get all in a tissy Rhett, I am not one of the members you are putting down I come to meetings and by the way I was at the MDA fill the boot drive, and yes I still don't think the union does enough locally. And as you mentioned before about the thinks the members don't know about, well how about for a change getting the shift vp's up and us them to let members know whats going on. I know you have done lots of good things and same goes for rodney, but if nobody knows then the sad truth is nobody cares. Informing the local members about what you are doing would be a great start to turning around the meeting attendance and starting to build faith in the union again. Also, you can't just throw blame around I know of some circumstanes where good ideas have been brought up and the ball has been dropped on the officers side. so the first step to a good relationship is COMMUNICATION, then support, and then probably a ham sandwich.

FireFleitz said...

Well put. I agree totally. Communication is the key. I spent a lot, I mean A LOT of time on our last website. Hell, it won an award. Yet, I still had people coming up to me and asking questions which were easily answered if they looked around. I don't mean questions like what is the phone number to station so and so. I mean things like "Well I wish I knew about that, cause I would have gone".

I am not sure of the answer, but communication is definitely key.

Case and point, I plan on sending out emails once I get enough people signed up on the new IAFF Local 1132 website, yet people aren't signing up.

There is a perfect example of communication that isn't occurring. Members aren't even willing to sign up on the site. We have had several, but nowhere near 250.

Anonymous said...

Rhett, I'n going to tell you something you already know, but, there are other officers other than you and Rodney...... use them! and if they don't want to do the job find someone else. hold a special election, lets get some people who want to work for a better union in there.

FireFleitz said...

Oh, sorry about that. I wanted to touch on that subject as well. You bring up an excellent point.

Elected officials, which all of ours are elected by the popular vote.

The burden is on the Union Members to elect officials who fit the bill.

It is up to the elected official to do the job they are elected to do. If indeed they cannot fill the spot, then they need to move out and have someone else move in.

As for the other Union officers, we have to work with whomever you elect.

FireFleitz said...

One other thing, about the picnics and cookouts. All you have to do is plan it.

We have had 2 or 3 retirees breakfasts, and everyone was invited. Do you know how many current firefighters were there. Maybe 6-10. It was a perfect opportunity to learn a thing or two. We will have another one.

Plus, we had a cookout at the Union Hall, it was during the MDA poker run a year or two ago. Do you know how many firefighters were there? Maybe a handful. You didn't have to ride in the event either.

If someone were to plan a cookout or picnic, I will be there.

Anonymous said...

why doesn't the union have a morale commitee to plan things like like year around.

Anonymous said...

I am still new here, but my problem is how all I hear is how good the union use to be and how the old union would be downtown fighting for us. These same employees say that the new union doesnt have any pull, but my question is where are they? I go to meetings and I see the same faces at the meetings. These FFs that say the union use to be strong are right, but I bet that was because of involvement in its members. I am sure when they were younger in their career that the older members lead the way which I believe that they should be doing now. If they want to sit around and point fingures than they should take a hard look in the mirror to find the problem.
I understand that we need both old and new members to work together, but wouldnt it be easier to have the senior members guide the way w/ their experience. Don't get me wrong, I know that their are just as many young members not showing up, but once the union gets that buzz about it like it "use to have" than that would attract new faces to the meetings to find out what is going on. I personally enjoy going the meetings and finding out what is going on and what he union is doing locally.

Anonymous said...

Rhett, I agree with the above post on that we need to do more large scale union events other that just the Banquet and the glof tourney. Yea the retiree breakfast is good and all but thats hard for alot of us. Most of us HAVE to work another job and we cant be there in the mornings on our off days. I know all the guys on my shift either go to another job, are building houses or have to run home and be Mr. Mom. As for the cookout, and no disrespect intended, but who wants to cook out in the hood inside of a chain link fence? Not me. We need a few people willing to be on an events committee or something of sort, and start planning some fun events like cookouts, camping trips, horseshoe tournaments, float trips, and getting involved with Habitat for Humanity? The ideas are endless and I think we ALL should post them here instead of bashing the Union like normal.

FireFleitz said...

These large scale events are what I was trying to do before becoming Sec/Treas. Since taking the role, I have not had the time for extra stuff.

Plus before I had to plan the Golf Tournaments, which takes a lot of time.

HOWEVER, I would be more than happy to help plan and execute any of these events.

Just say the word, and be willing to step up and get it done.

I think it would be great for our members.

Anonymous said...

You're right about all of us gathering and making some headway on our own. We should take the initiative to plan new events. BUT, you and I both know that there is NO business or planning session taking place at a strip club, a bar, or a damn Blue Jays game. When our leadership comes back from these overpriced trips the talk is of how wasted someone got and the double D cups bouncing in his face, not the plans that are underway.

Sure, after some coaxing there is information exchanged and we find 'some' business was taken care of. I for one don't give 2 shits about what you do up there as long as our FF rights are taken care of, but don't talk of all business on these trips and in the same conversation talk about going to a ball game.

I have spoken to you and several of the guys going on these trips (no I haven't been) and you all say business is done from the minute you get on the floor until the supper time bell hits, then it's off to whatever.

I am in full favor of sending guys to the conferences and meetings with the big dogs of the union. I don't want to go and couldn't care less who does go, but along with the other guys, we don't care about the happenings of DC, Chicago, FDNY, LAFD, or anywhere else AS MUCH AS HERE LOCALLY.

Save us some money, save our jobs, find Engines 12 & 7, and don't worry about Jerry's Kids as much as ours. MDA is a worth while charity and we should help but lately more buzz is about the fund raisers than about the union as a whole. I'll donate to the Flietz family fund gladly if you need it 10 times to 1 for Jerry's kids.

Worry about us and not them. Maybe we can get you another Blackberry or an IPhone if you get us some more cash in our pockets.

Anonymous said...

Craig I'll haev to back Rhett on this one. I have been at each of the Retiree breakfasts and so has Rhett, Collins, Wines Jr & Sr, Furrow, Banks, and a some other guys are there each time also. We have lives and kids and other jobs and we make it. Rhett puts his kids in daycare for the events and the union doesn't pay for it. If he can then everyone can.

If your guys 'have' to go to part-time jobs then I suggest they budget accordingly and make time if they really want to be there. Don't spend too much on trips cars and other crap and maybe you can drop the extra job CAPTAIN.

Anonymous said...

The post signed CS, was not posted by me. Please be sure who you may be referring to when you reply to or about a post. Whenever I have posted on this site, I have always used my name. Thanks, Craig Sellers.

Anonymous said...

That was my post Craig. Sorry.
Chuck Sharp

Anonymous said...

you made the statement"That is where members are usually uneducated about the process. Why are they uneducated about Union business? I don't know the answer to that. I can offer some suggestions.

1.They don't care
2.They don't know when the meetings are
3.They don't think they have a voice in the Union
4.They don't have time
5.They aren't willing to make time"
As a leader in the union you sure did push the blame away from you, if "they" don't know, then "you" should be part to blame. Maybe "You" should step off your pedestal and help with some of the foot work needed to get the union going again.

FireFleitz said...

Wow, you guys have offered a lot of great feedback.

Let me answer them like this.

1. Yes we need people to plan events.
2. About the trips, you expect us to go out of town and not enjoy our free time.
3. For the last time, the Union does not own a blackberry. Both Rodney and mine were bought by ourselves. However, if you guys want to get me an Iphone I would appreciate it.
4. I appreciate the sentiment of giving my kids money, but I would rather see it go to Jerry's kids. It is the giving that makes the MDA a worthwhile cause.

5. As far as getting off of my pedestal and help with the footwork, thanks for the comments.

HOWEVER, that is what I have been trying to say. The members who have been involved and getting things done are spent. They need more help with getting it done. That is why there aren't any picnics, and some issues are on the back burner. There just aren't enough involved members to go around.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I feel a need to step in here. First of all, it is a Union. A Union does not look after a few people, a Union looks after all of the membership. By the same token, a Union Member should be looking after what is good for all of the members, not just what is good for themselves and their career. There is very little "Union behavior" being exhibited by the membership. Many members will stab each in the back if it gets them a promotion, or if it helps them position themselves for a choice assignment. That behavior took place occasionally when I first joined the RFD, but it seems to be happening constantly in the RFEMS. Whos' fault is that? Is it the fault of Rodney..... NO! Is it the fault of Rhett, of the VP's, Stewards, or SIA's... NO!

It is the fault of the members. You want to know why the Union isn't doing what you would like, well, bucko, you better look in the mirror. You ARE the union! And still, most of the members can't figure that out. You want the Union to make a difference in your job? You better step up and work for it. You want the manpower back from Engine 12 and 7? Then step up and start to address the manpower issue. Too many people in the union don't want to be seen working for the union, for fear that they won't get promoted. There is a word for that.... Cowardice.

Sometimes you need to make some sacrifices to do what is right. Every single member of this union has time to be involved with our local. Every one. They simply choose not to make time, and then bitch about how the local is run. And then, there is the "Well, I pay my dues, and that gives me the right to bitch". No it doesn't. Every member is paying dues, yet some of them actually work for the benefit of others. What it all boils down to is that there are 2 kinds of members in this local. There are those who help the local, and those who help themselves, then bitch about the local. If you haven't worked and helped the local, then you now know which one you are.

Mike Overacker

Brandon Roark said...

I am not a great mind, I am not a great writer and I am not a member of RFD.I am an IAFF member and supporter of the union (Local 362).

I enjoy reading this blog for numerous reasons, (I used to live in Roanoke, I have family that worked at 6 Engine, Roanoke is demographically similar to South Bend)... but mostly I like reading because the things being said here are reflect the things being said in my local ( and I assume these conversations are being repeated in locals throughout the IAFF).

A applaud Rhett for his undertakings related to the RFD, IAFF and the Local. While I have never met the man, I envision a man that is honest and sincere in his dealings.

With that said a Union is only as good as its leaders, and the leaders are only as good as the members (I know I say alot of words for saying nothing at all).

I wonder this, if the voices here reflected the voices in the meetings, would things be different? You don’t like what the union is doing or not doing for you, then attend the meeting and be heard. A leader can’t lead a group somewhere without knowing where the group wants to go.

Anonymous statements don’t cast votes, nor are they heard when it matters most.

Hell attend the next few meetings... What’s the worst that could happen?

Brandon Roark
South Bend Fire

Anonymous said...

mike is actually right on the money with what he has said.

Anonymous said...

Deception--to hid behind or disguise whom you are and how you feel..All this bashing for no reason..I applaud the work of the union leaders and all it stands for,,Its true we need more locaol involvement but that starts by you showing up a the meeting as the man said,,,,Dont hide behind a wall and throw stones ..come out and support the cause and then you will see for yourself...What about when the union tries to take out the safety house or have a boot drive ..Does deception come into play again..Stop hiding and support the causes..KBW

Jebadiah said...

Let me remind us all that the Union also provides the Honor/Color Guard, made up of its membership. This benefit is one almost every member has requested for on their status cards when registering with the Union and has been present at every Class Graduation and memorial I can remember since I joined the Dept in 99.

I also seem to remember the union fighting to keep postitions for fire fighters in recent years.

The union will only do what you want it to if you participate and become part of its voice/body. Every member has the right to participate and reflect their oppinions.

It is a democracy, exercise your right and your free speech.