Naked City

Firefighters Want to Bargain

From now until March 4, be on the lookout for off-duty Austin firefighters, armed with petitions and seeking your signature. According to Mike Martinez, president of the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, after much research and consideration, the union's membership decided to launch a quest to have Austin's voters approve "collective bargaining" for labor negotiations between the union and the city.

Currently, AAPF labor contracts are negotiated with city officials under "meet and confer" – the same process police use – but Martinez said his membership would like to move to collective bargaining in order to "depoliticize" negotiations. Meet-and-confer negotiations are confidential, and the closed meetings are "very political," he said, "and cause stressed relationships." Conversely, collective bargaining negotiations are governed by the state's Public Information Act and therefore subject to public disclosure.

Further, bargaining requires the two parties to "negotiate in good faith" – in the event there is an impasse, each side puts their best offer on the table and an arbitrator steps in to decide the matter. "So, it really requires us to be honest, realistic, and truthful about what direction we want to go," he said. "And, in my opinion it really depoliticizes the process."

Martinez said that while there has been "no official position" from City Manager Toby Futrell regarding the AAPF's efforts, she has said that she "didn't see how it could be a bad thing." Currently, he said, firefighters in 19 Texas cities have collective bargaining, including San Antonio, El Paso, and Houston. The AAPF's petition drive has "a lot of momentum," and Martinez feels confident that by March 4 the union will have collected the 8,500 signatures it needs to get the question placed on the May 15 ballot.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, collective bargaining, meet and confer, Mike Martinez, labor negotiations, Toby Futrell

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