|In the Fire Service: New Partnership Unites Labor and Management
International Association of Fire Chiefs Takes New Approach to Labor-Management
The reasoning behind this philosophy is based on two fundamentals:
1) The individual members of the fire department are the foundation of that organization, and
2) The fire department can be no better or stronger than its firefighters and other employees.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs has been promoting this concept through its Fire Service Leadership Partnership seminars. These sessions have been well received by both fire chiefs and labor leaders whove participated.
The goal of these seminars is to provide the best possible service to the citizens of the communities we protect, and the philosophy of the partnership is designed to maximize fire departments ability to achieve this goal.
In 1994, the IAFC conducted the pilot program for the Cape Cod and Barnstable County (Mass.) fire departments to test the concept of the "Developing the Fire Service Leadership Partnership" program.
A group of 13 fire chiefs and their 13 union presidents participated in two two-day sessions separated by six months. At the end of the second two-day session, an evaluation was done, and the program received excellent scores from both the fire chiefs and union presidents. The groups agreed that:
More than 250 fire chief/union president partnerships have participated in the seminar since the pilot sessions. The full program has been held in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin; additional sessions have been held in Connecticut and Florida. In 1997, a western regional seminar was held with fire chief/union president partners from Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
One of the major statements that helped set the stage for the fire service leadership partnership concept was expressed long ago by Thomas Paine: "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right."
Challenging the Status Quo
As in many other industries, the fire service accepted our existing labor-management situation as "the way its always been." We also accepted the use of certain terms such as "adversarial," "antagonistic" or "win-lose" to describe the traditional relationship between labor and management in the fire service.
Clearly, to remain competitive and not only attract, but also retain, valuable employees, fire departments must respond in more enlightened ways to the changing nature of our work force. The successful fire department of the new millennium will be structured to allow its employees to think for themselves and identify problems, solutions and opportunities.
Unfortunately for the fire service, many of these solutions are beyond the experiences and education of our current officers and union local leaders.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of all will be the need for near total retraining in labor-management relations for all of our existing personnel: firefighters, EMTs, company officers, battalion chiefs, assistant chiefs, deputy chiefs, union officers and leaders, and department chiefs. As we examine these relations, the importance of a supportive government cant be emphasized enough.
In its 1994 report "The New American Workplace: A Labor Perspective," the AFL-CIO Committee on Evolution of Work notes, "In the new system of work organization, management must give up much of the authoritarian control it now exercises. That hardly comes easily and cannot come without anxiety.
"For union leaders, too, change can be threatening. Many unions have been accustomed, of necessity to rallying workers in response and often in opposition to decisions made by management.
"Adding to the difficulty is the distrust between labor and management, which is endemic to the old system. The traditional system is built on mutual distrust, which is why it relies on a hierarchical command-and-control regime. The new system, in contrast, can function effectively only if those deep suspicions are dispelled and replaced by mutual respect."
IAFC and IAFF Increasing Cooperation
Al Whitehead, the general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, has encouraged union locals to participate in the IAFC labor-management sessions. He has also pointed out that the chiefs and IAFF local presidents whove been invited to attend and dont are most probably from the departments where the most critical needs exist. Whitehead has written within the IAFFs official publication encouraging the leadership of their locals to look for common ground and areas of cooperation with their fire chiefs.
At this time, the IAFC and IAFF are discussing joint sponsorship of these partnership programs. In the future, its anticipated that at least one fire chief and one union president working together will facilitate each program.
The promise of a new relationship between labor and management and the development of the Fire Service Leadership Partnership program will test the maturity and commitment of fire chiefs and labor leaders alike, but the time has come. The IAFC, working in increasing cooperation with the IAFF, is committed to doing whats necessary to make this work for the community and its citizens, and for the future of our employees, labor colleagues and departments. For more information contact Roger Dahl, USCM Staff.