By Meira Beinstock
For The Herald Bulletin
For the past 20 years, the firefighters union has been a right-to-work union, according to John Smith, president of the Anderson Firefighters Local 1262. Despite this, there has been a 98 percent involvement rate among firefighters in Indiana.
“I think that speaks to the value and necessity of having a union — that people would voluntarily remain a part of it,” Smith said.
Smith does not anticipate a decrease in union membership, now that Indiana has passed a right-to-work law.
The firefighters union in Anderson is making a more concerted effort to give back to local communities, explained Smith, through fundraisers for organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The Anderson firefighters union is focused on fair wages, collective bargaining and, “What appears to be a concerted effort on someone’s part to get their hands on our pensions,” Smith said.
Concerning bargaining issues, he said, both sides should discuss their concerns and negotiate honestly until they reach an agreement.
“We understand a lot of the economic situation that a lot of cities and towns and states are facing,” he said. “And we have tried to be a part of the solution and not the problem. But it’s important that we maintain that authority and come together as a group of firefighters and voice our concern — to be able to bargain with the people who pay our salaries.”
Negotiating a favorable contract is challenging because of a decline in the local tax base.
“We recognize that,” Smith said. “All of us in public safety, whether it’s police or fire, we do that job because we’ve been given certain gifts of talents and we like helping people.
“But we have families to support, lives to live.”
Unions are as important now as they were in the past, Smith said.
“I think it lies in the basic nature of our mission, and that is to simply provide a safe working environment, one where workers have some input and say into how their jobs are structured and the kind of wage that they are able to make,” he explained. “I think that will always remain important.”