Paid IW firefighters unionize

Published 2:09 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2016

By Diana McFarland

News editor

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) has established a local in Isle of Wight to try and unionize the county’s paid firefighters.

The Isle of Wight local is a branch of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters, which is affiliated with the IAFF.

The members are paid staff with the Isle of Wight Department of Emergency Services.

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While many of Isle of Wight County’s volunteer firefighters belong to the union as part of their paid employment in other localities, other non-union volunteers are concerned that this new local will have a negative impact on their rosters, said Carrollton Volunteer Fire Fighter Albert Burckard, who has been with Carrollton since 2002. 

The IAFF does not allow members to volunteer. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The IAFF considers volunteering to be “wrong, is unsafe and is against the IAFF’s Constitution …” and members who do so could have their status in the union jeopardized, said IAFF President Harold A. Schaitberger in a 2008 letter.

Burckard said Isle of Wight volunteers, who are also members of the IAFF as paid staff in other localities, form the backbone of the county’s volunteer fire and rescue system.

Burckard said firefighters are concerned the union would ask members not to volunteer. That concern, along with the long-standing difficulty in recruiting new volunteers due to a changing demographic, would threaten the ability of the volunteer agencies to operate.

However, Virginia is a right to work state and employers cannot require workers to join a union as a condition of the job — nor can an employer forbid an employee to join a union, according to the Code of Virginia.

Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad Chief Brian Carroll said the move doesn’t affect his station as much as the firefighters, but would have preferred the county discussed the possibility of a union before announcing it last week. Carroll said he let the other chiefs know at the monthly Fire and Rescue Association meeting.

However, Carroll said they will continue to work with the union members on a day-to-day basis.

As for inserting a wedge between the paid and volunteer firefighters and EMTs — particularly in light of the recent battle over the facilities use agreement, Carroll doesn’t see that has happened.

“I would say that we have over the past 15 years built an excellent volunteer/paid system and I would hope that the creation of a union does not do anything to disrupt the progress and consistency in service that we have together created,” said Carroll.

Isle of Wight County Acting Administrator Don Robertson said he doesn’t know why a local chapter was formed.

“We don’t anticipate any wage and benefit issues at this time,” Robertson said.

Burckard said one benefit of joining the union appears to be a break on insurance costs.

The Virginia Professional Fire Fighters did not respond to a request for comment.  {/mprestriction}