My first June commentary speaks to the perception that firefighters are not worth the money and benefits they have fought so hard to obtain – and to the epiphany when the contrary is realized.
In short, last November Ohio defeated SB5 which would have severely limited the bargaining procedures of public employee unions. This only after a lofty battle by the State’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public employees to get the bill placed on the November ballot. In Ohio’s case, the public stepped up and supported the right of these professionals to negotiate their futures. However, on June 5th, Wisconsin re-elected Gov. Scott Walker who has demonstrated a blatant hostility toward public employee unions in a heated recall election. Is this going to be a continuing trend of public employee unions in constant battle with State lawmakers across the country? You bet! And how will the public react if these issues reach a voter’s ballot? It’s hard to say – but if current economic hardships continue, it may not bode well for the unions.
(And before I continue, I am going to say up front that I am not a union member and do not work for a union fire department.)
In general, the public has a very favorable opinion of the fire service. But in these hard economic times, they often see firefighters as strong-arming their local municipality to take more than their fare share of the public’s hard earned tax dollars. What’s more, nasty contract negotiations always hurt the image of the fire service much more than the image of the politicians who know all too well how to spin the situation.
Not all contracts are good for the cities involved, and yes, the municipalities have the right to ask for concessions and re-negotiations when the current contract is a finical burden in times of dwindling tax revenue. But I will fight to the last man to preserve the right to negotiate those contracts and not have terms dictated by politicians who may not have the firefighter’s livelihood, profession, and/or safety as their main interests.
All this being said, if firefighters are to retain their good spirits with the public, and have a fighting chance when these attacks on public employee unions hit the ballot, then a strong positive public relations campaign needs to be initiated now. Because if your image is of a union thug, the public will surely let you know when it’s time to vote!