Fairfield Twp. firefighters organize as unions fight for safety, budget amid coronavirus

Fairfield Twp. has established a new International Association of Fire Fighters union, Local 5276. Pictured are vehicles parked in the township's Station 212 at Gilmore Road. ED RICHTER/FILE
Fairfield Twp. has established a new International Association of Fire Fighters union, Local 5276. Pictured are vehicles parked in the township's Station 212 at Gilmore Road. ED RICHTER/FILE

FAIRFIELD TWP. ― Township firefighters will soon be in the same position as other first responder bargaining units, as unions are expected to play a larger role in making choices heard while novel coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Earlier this month, the International Association of Fire Fighters added Local 5276, which represents the eight Fairfield Twp. full-time firefighters.

“As the community grows, the fire department grows as well just to match our community’s needs,” said Local 5276 President Scott Smith. “As we transition to more of a full-time staff, we just want to have a seat at the table, and have a voice in some of the decision-making that revolves around fire department functions as the community does grow.”

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Fairfield Twp. Fire Chief Timothy Thomas said any new full-time positions would be at the discretion of the board of trustees, but said, “There are inherent problems with maintaining staffing levels with part-time employees and adding full-time positions will help stabilize that staffing.”

The last new full-time firefighter position was added last year.

Union leaders locally have said they’ll be negotiating with “eyes wide open” as firefighters and police officers are some of the most at-risk essential workers. Michael Franczak, executive manager of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Great Lakes District, said union contracts will likely focus around compensation in the next few years. He told the Journal-News last month “safety will be a continuing issue at the bargaining table.”

“I would imagine there would be language in there that deals with safety protections, both internally and externally, for bargaining unit members,” Franczak said in June.

The new union and township are still a few weeks away from heading into their first collective bargaining session. Smith said they the Ohio State Employment Relations Board is still processing paperwork, and they’re still waiting for the township to formally recognize the union. Township Administrator Julie Vonderhaar said the township’s attorney is reviewing paperwork.

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“I don’t have concerns,” Vonderhaar said of the new union being formed. “I think both parties will come to the table ... we’ll have a professional conversation. I think both parties will come to the table, ready to be professional, and realistic (with the budget).”

Vonderhaar said it’s not unexpected a union formed with the fire department as it’s “a sign that we’re growing.”

The township already has bargaining units for its police officers and sergeants, both of which will begin negotiations for a new three-year contract in 2021.

Fairfield Twp. is the 45th largest township in Ohio based on the 2010 Census, and is projected to have nearly 23,000 residents. Township officials have said they believe the township will surpass others when the 2020 Census data is released at the end of March.

The department still has the Fairfield Twp. Firefighters Association (FTFA), which Smith said will not go away as it represents all 10 full-time staff and the 84 part-time staff. Some of the association’s functions will be absorbed into the union, but some, such as honor guard duty and financial support for a firefighter in need, will remain with the FTFA.

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