Will Big Labor Extinguish Fire Volunteers?

Volunteer fire departments have been a revered American tradition since Ben Franklin founded one in 1736. But state laws that hand monopoly-bargaining privileges to union bosses like Ed Kelly threaten all such departments. (Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives)

State Monopoly-Bargaining Statutes Endanger American Communities

For decades, officers of International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF/AFL-CIO) union subsidiaries have used threats, fines and expulsions to deter the union rank and file from serving their own communities as fire volunteers when they aren’t on the job.

The constitution of the IAFF itself has long prohibited career firefighters who are union members from volunteering.

Moreover, IAFF bylaws codified just last year actually include “volunteering” in a “list of serious charges such as embezzlement, assault on an officer, or membership in a terrorist organization,” as former Connecticut IAFF official Frank Ricci has publicly pointed out.

National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix commented:

“The very idea that a career fireman might donate his time by helping a child who is having an asthma attack or helping rescue a neighbor’s home or business from being destroyed outrages union bigwigs like IAFF President Ed Kelly.

“Under the IAFF union’s bylaws, the penalty for firefighters who defy Big Labor bosses by volunteering in their field of expertise could be a ‘reprimand, fine, suspension from office, or suspension or expulsion from membership.’

“And since volunteer fire departments typically require the active involvement of at least a couple of skilled professional firefighters to function effectively, the IAFF hierarchy’s rabid hostility puts their very existence in jeopardy.”

Fortunately, the efforts of Mr. Kelly and his predecessors to wipe out volunteer firefighting have not succeeded.

According to a 2020 report prepared by the National Volunteer Fire Council, almost two-thirds of the nearly 30,000 fire departments in the U.S. are still all-volunteer.

So-Called ‘Model Contract’ Bars Even Union Non-members From Volunteer Firefighting

All-volunteer departments are overwhelmingly located in communities with fewer than 10,000 residents and not a lot of tax revenue at their disposal. Small communities collectively save tens of billions of dollars every year thanks to time donated by firefighters who are willing to volunteer.

Enraged by the unwillingness of paid firefighters and volunteer fire departments to bow to their wishes, IAFF bosses are intensifying their war against “vollies” in states where Big Labor-allied politicians have handed them monopoly-bargaining power over employees.

In more than 30 states, union monopoly bargaining over firefighters’ terms and conditions of employment is authorized and promoted by state law. And in the remaining states, there are many localities with monopoly-bargaining ordinances. 

In all such jurisdictions, the IAFF hierarchy instructs officers of its subsidiaries to wield their monopoly power to negotiate contract provisions that prohibit all paid firemen, union members and non-members alike, from volunteering.

In fact, the so-called “Model Contract Language Manual” prepared by IAFF lawyers and posted on the union’s website includes recommended contract language that bars every career firefighter from volunteering regardless of union membership.

“Wherever this ‘model’ language is codified into a contract, it will have a potentially disastrous impact,” said Mr. Mix. “It will greatly magnify the risk that someone will call the fire department to ask for help, and the call will go unanswered.”

This scenario should be especially disturbing to residents of Virginia. 

Though an estimated 70% of firefighters in the Old Dominion are volunteers, there is a shortage of them, and it has already hit a critical level, according to the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association.

Matters could get much worse soon. In 2020, Virginia’s 27-year-old statutory prohibition on union monopoly bargaining in local government agencies, including fire departments, was overturned by Big Labor politicians in Richmond.

2020 Law Makes Old Dominion IAFF Target

Last spring, the new state law signed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam that gives union boss-friendly local politicians the green light to establish monopoly-bargaining regimes took effect.

“Unless incoming pro-Right to Work Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his General Assembly allies can act with alacrity to repeal the 2020 monopoly-bargaining law and reinstate the ban, IAFF union bosses may soon be exploiting their new special privileges to kill Virginia’s volunteer fire departments,” said Mr. Mix.   

“Of course, revoking this monopoly-bargaining scheme won’t be easy, especially since Big Labor Democrat politicians continue to control the Virginia Senate.

“But Mr. Youngkin owes it to the vast numbers of Virginians who supported him largely because of his pledges to stand up to Big Labor to at least try. 

“If he does, Right to Work members in Virginia will do all we feasibly can to help him.”

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