State tells suburb’s firefighters: You can organize

Don Heinzman

Suburban city officials are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief knowing that Brooklyn Park’s part-time firefighters called off their election to organize a union.

Had they gone ahead with their election and it passed, the department would have been the first in Minnesota to have some unionized part-time firefighters.

The part-time employee group apparently decided that they could gain more benefits and wage increases without involving a union. The city council has approved a 1.25 percent wage increase for part-time firefighters that was delayed because of the union organizing effort.

In Brooklyn Park, the fire department assigns six part-time firefighters to each of its three stations, and has the capacity to page 70 volunteers for big fires. Including the chief there are five full-time fire department members.

This staffing model of having full-time and part-time firefighters is used in most suburban fire departments.

Part-time firefighters, while having some benefits, do not get the same benefits, as part-time city employees. That saves the city taxpayers’ money, while they get excellent fire protection.

When the part-time firefighters compared what they get in wages and benefits at Brooklyn Park to what part-time city staff members receive, it set off the firefighters’ interest in forming a union.

One firefighter noticed a job posting for a starting part-time clerk at $18.45 an hour plus benefits and sick time, compared to $14.65, the highest hourly rate a part-time firefighter can earn.

Some questioned if part-time firefighters could organize a union. To the surprise of some, the state Bureau of Mediation ruled that if they had the right number of hours, part-time firefighters could organize.

Now with the Bureau of Mediation’s ruling, every part-time firefighter is eligible to organize if they meet the state’s criteria.

Brooklyn Park fire officials were quick to point out that the part-time firefighers receive a pension and have a uniform allowance. They are treated well on-duty, they can relax in a room with television and have their own kitchen.

This is a good time to thank all of the full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters who risk their lives fighting fires, and to urge city councils to improve the benefits and wages of the part-time firefighters who continue to save taxpayers money.


Don Heinzman is an columnist and editorial writer for ECM Inc. The Stillwater Gazette is an ECM newspaper.