Essay, Research Paper: Politic Fights


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Every election year brings on the same hurdle for the firefighter’s union. The
mayoral candidates approach the union and ask for their support throughout the
election. This is a major decision the union (union representatives) has to
make. The representatives of the union have to approach the membership with
their recommendation for whom to support so that the candidate will have full
support from the union. Hopefully, the candidate chosen by the representatives
of the union wins the election. If the candidate chosen does not win the
election, the elected candidate not supported by the union, understandably, he
has little or no respect for the union at that time. In the 1993 election year
the union had to make a major decision on whom to support for mayoral position,
the one we chose was defeated. Because he did not win, there was a struggle
between union and management. This did not come about because the union was
looking to control the new administration, but the town wanted benefits given
back which were negotiated with the mayor that we were supporting. The union’s
main goal during this time frame was to get the new administration to have some
kind of respect for us when we went down to the town hall to resolve issues that
arose. For the first few years, the only way the town would see it our way was
when the arbitrator’s decision was in our favor. This was quite often. Since
1993, I have been either on the executive board or vice president of the union
and received experience in grievances, arbitration and negotiations. The town is
forever taking us to arbitration and seldom winning. We have a contract that
protects us. Our contract was negotiated collectively by the union and
management. When a new administration controls the finances of the town, their
first goal is usually to attack the benefits in our contract. The administration
now, which is running the town of Johnston, took over in 1994. They thought that
the firefighter contract was a lucrative one. The town leaders thought that they
would win many benefits back by just taking us to arbitration. Along with this
attitude, the town leaders had little respect for the union and the leaders of
the union because of the reasons mentioned before. The town of Johnston’s
first task with the firefighters union was to negotiate a contract. They came
after our Blue Cross insurance, pension, pay, and our promotional exam. They
would soon find out that the firefighters union was in no position to just give
benefits back to the town. They were in for a fight. These negotiations went on
for an extensive amount of time. Being part of negotiations in the past, I knew
that most concessions the town was asking for were part of negotiations and
immaterial to them. After weeding out the non-essential proposals we were down
to the bottom line. The raise was the last item left that would make or break
the agreement. The negotiation team, which I was a part of, came up with a
unique way to receive a raise. We were to receive no raise for eighteen months
then go from a bimonthly payment schedule to biweekly a payment schedule, which
gave the union a eight percent raise that year and a total of thirteen percent
over a three year period. The town agreed and the contract was signed. The union
and town ended the negotiations, with the union not conceding to any issues we
felt were significant to us. This would be our first major victory. The town’s
next fight was not to pay the union members their longevity the way it was
calculated in the contract. We went to the town leaders to rectify the situation
but the administrators would not negotiate anything but what they thought the
contract said. Since the town and the union could not reach an agreement, the
union filed a grievance with the American Arbitration Association (this
association will schedule a date and an arbitrator to hear the case) so that the
two parties could resolve the issue. This was another major mistake the town
made, in not having any respect for the unions advice in how to handle the
dispute the town cost the taxpayers money in arbitration and in payment to the
union members. The town would not take our advice no matter how straightforward
we were with them. I can understand that they thought we were trying to
manipulate them into the way we seen fit, but that was not the situation. All
the union executive members were from the town and along with negotiating a
contract or going to grievance there is an inner feeling to protect taxpayers of
the town. By the town leaders not taking our advice, we filed a grievance. An
arbitrator heard the grievance and he awarded the union a decision that entitled
union members to receive more money in their longevity payment. The town leaders
were so stubborn at the time that if they took our advise, it would of saved the
town substantial amounts of money. First, by not going to arbitration and second
by paying the union members less in longevity payments. We took the town to
arbitration several other times. There was a point where the administrators of
the town did not want to talk to us and we would file for arbitration, go
through the proceedings with the town, and win. I feel that the headmen of the
town were disgusted with their record in arbitration and they finally
surrendered, sat, and talked with us. Winning so many arbitrations was the
beginning of the respect the union was looking for, but not until the town and
the union spent thousands of dollars unnecessarily in arbitration. Another
reason the town started respecting us is that when we first started to bargain
with the town there were people on both sides who thought they were in the
“Jimmy Hoffa” era of negotiating. There was yelling and screaming across the
table because of personal reasons that carried into the negotiations. We would
no longer put up with this and weed off all the people on the board that
negotiated like this and the town seemed to do the same. Everyone involved in
the early negotiations lived and learned that behaving arrogantly would not get
the union and the town very far. The nineties mode of bargaining took over our
style. No one gets upset, argues, or screams for the most part we tend to hash
out our disagreements through talks, and if one side is feeling a little
uptight, the talks are called off for another day. The town and the union have a
very good relationship now. We learned from the past and try to work issues out
before going to arbitration. There will always be our differences in
interpreting the contract, but now we can talk and straighten out most, if not
all, of the issues before they are taken to arbitration by either side. There
was a reason for the town to take the actions they did and the union knew this.
The union was hoping that the town would understand our position that the
contract was there to protect all union members from wages to getting fired. The
reason why we have the contract we have now is we fought the same fights in the
past that the town wanted to fight now.
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