Even the greatest leaders in the world can't predict every conflict that may arise on any given day. But the smart ones proactively search for ways of avoiding issues before they happen.
In 1994, a survey of more than 400 fire departments revealed that too often fire chiefs and their labor counterparts operated on different agendas and had different visions. More importantly, they lacked communication.
With this information, a pilot program was created; 16 fire chiefs and union presidents met in Massachusetts for the first Fire Service Leadership Partnership Initiative Workshop. There was one purpose: to build a stronger labor-management relationship.
The workshop resulted in what's now known as the Labor-Management Initiative (LMI), supported jointly by the IAFC and the International Association of Fire Fighters.
LMI has been one of the most successful bridge-builders between groups who have historically had on-again, off-again relationships. Taking the proactive approach to communicating has been key for these groups in providing a higher quality of service to the public.
The LMI program was built on core guiding principles that have helped keep the lines of communication open between labor and communication to this day:
- To recognize that labor and management have a mutual goal of ensuring the well-being and safety of fire/EMS personnel and providing high quality service to the public.
- To work together to improve communications, enhance training, increase participative decision-making, and promote a labor-management relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
- To create labor-management partnerships by forming labor-management committees at appropriate levels or adapting existing councils or committees.
- To provide systemic training to labor and management leaders on collaborative methods of dispute resolution, recognizing that this process allows leaders to identify problems and craft solutions to better serve their members and the public.
- To promote these principles to members at all levels of both organizations.
Labor and management in the fire service share a goal of wanting what’s best for their workers so they can provide a high quality of service to the public.
The success of departments depends on building relationships between every party involved: organized labor, city managers and fire chiefs. It’s that proactive collaboration that separates a good department from a great department.