Union on its way for Park City firefighters
March 6, 2012
The Park City Fire District is among the dwindling list fire departments in the state with no organized union, but that won’t be the case in a matter of weeks. Capt. Brent Cannon and Capt. Shawn Winder have been hard at work over the past three months, creating a union for Park City firefighters with the hopes of supporting state and international organizations such as the Professional Firefighters of Utah and the International Association of Firefighters.
"I think that there’s always been interest," Cannon said. "Our main goal to support the PFFU because of all the work on Capitol Hill they do for us. And the same is true for the IAFF."
From standardized safety protocol and necessary equipment to pension funds, the state and international organizations have fought to improve the work conditions and benefits for firefighters, especially for career-long firefighters.
"Unions provide a way for employees to have formal centralized voice on their working conditions and benefits and salary discussions," said PFFU President Jack Tidrow. "It affiliates them with another professional organization and for career fire departments, where most firefighters plan to stay, the majority of them are unionized."
Despite growing numbers among fire departments unionizing, a trend that’s true nationally as well, Tidrow said unions will still meet opposition.
"It’s human nature to resist change," he said. "That’s what it boils down to."
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The road to unionize was not without some skepticism among administration within the Park City Fire District. Fire Chief Paul Hewitt said he was surprised when he first heard about the unionizing efforts.
"Across the nation there are tens of thousands of unions," Hewitt said. "You can find those that are highly functioning and those that are not. The union here, it’s very new to PCFD, and it’s up to them to make sure they follow through with their agenda."
This attempt at a union is not the first in PCFD history, Hewitt said. In the mid-80s another union was formed which lasted less than a year.
"Everything that’s been expressed to me has all been positive," Hewitt said. "We’re staying optimistic in the future."
With 20 of the 83 full-time firefighters at the PCFD expressing interest in the union, Winder said she felt there was strong support in the department.
"The more we looked into it, the stronger I felt the importance of supporting state and international organizations," Winder said.
"We’re in no stretch starting this because we’re disgruntled," she added. "We believe it’s important to support organizations that have already been supporting firefighters as a whole. We plan on becoming more involved politically."
Among issues the PFFU is watching carefully in the Utah Legislature this year is a bill trying to eliminate collective bargaining rights, where teachers, police officers, fire fighters and other state workers can address grievances or support an issue as a whole rather than as individual groups. While Salt Lake City is the only area in the state where collective bargaining rights are used, the legislature is considering banning the process all together.
"We’re probably keeping track of 40 or so different bills," Tidrow said. "We look at the bills that are fire service related, those dealing with labor in general and both organized and private labor law changes. All workers should have the safest environment they can with decent wages and benefits."
It’s that kind of involvement that the PCFD Union hopes to address, supporting national and state efforts that protect firefighters.
"There is a lot of interest in the political aspects the union could address," Cannon said. "Every year, lots of stuff that concerns us is coming up on Capitol Hill. When you’re a young department like we are, where people are looking ahead to 20- and 30-year careers, being involved is a good way to stay educated, to make sure those that follow us have same the benefits and pensions that we have today."
The Park City Fire District Union is expected to receive its charter, making the union official, in the coming weeks.