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ACC Commissioners debate letting firefighters bargain collectively

View of City Hall in Athens, GA

Athens-Clarke County commissioners last night heard arguments for and against recognizing the firefighters’ union in ACC. Under Georgia law, local governments can choose to recognize and enter into a collective bargaining agreement with firefighters, something not allowed for other government employees.

At a work session last night, International Association of Firefighters 12th District Vice-President Walt Dix said that, even if the county recognizes the union, there was no danger of firefighters going on strike.

"There won't be any of that," Dix said. "That's not something that we ever support and would never want to see happen, because our number one mission is to provide the best service we can to the public."

Under the Georgia law that enables firefighters to bargain collectively, striking, work stoppages, and slowdowns are illegal.

Dix also told commissioners that recognizing the union could help fill vacancies within the department. That was a sentiment addressed by Nate Bailey, president of the Atlanta local of the firefighters' union.

According to Bailey, the union, working with Atlanta city officials, reduced the vacancy rate in their department from 24.9 percent to 14.9 percent in about a year by focusing resources on employee retention.

But ACC staff are opposed to recognizing the union. County Manager Blaine Williams laid out his arguments against the idea.

"Collective bargaining is a complicated and time-consuming process and not without expense," Williams said. "Unions [also] tend to assert themselves in a political fashion, and the proposed action would formally convey substantive rights to one subset of employees not afforded to the other 43 [county departments], which is unfair and will very likely cause issues of perceived, and possibly real, inequity."

The matter is expected to come up for a vote on June 6th.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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