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Labor and Management Working Together

Throughout the fire service’s history, members have worked toward a common goal: to provide the highest level of service to the communities we have the honor to protect.

However, sometimes there has been a division between labor and management in the fire service. This divide may have resulted from various reasons, such as egos (on both sides) or different views of the fire service’s future, among many other issues.

This is a disservice to the communities we have sworn to protect. It is the duty of fire service leaders to bring both groups together.

A positive partnership between labor and management is a critical and necessary aspect of leading a fire department. How do we ensure that labor and management develop and maintain a positive partnership? This is a key responsibility of the fire chief. If labor and management are not working together, the level of service to the community and the firefighters is diminished.

The first step is to develop strong relationships with the labor leadership. It is important that the relationships be built on transparency, integrity, trust and respect. You can accomplish this through open conversations about the concerns of each group.

This is not something that happens overnight; it can take long hours and a lot of work and the relationships need to be continually nurtured. The trust can be broken with just one instance when one side believes the other is not being transparent. The process of rebuilding trust will have to start over; it will take a lot of time and effort and the relationships may be difficult to repair. Both sides must be vigilant in nurturing the relationships.

It is important to include labor in as many decisions as possible, including everything from purchasing a new piece of equipment to personnel assignments to station remodels. Any decisions that involves the department’s executive staff should also include the labor group’s executive staff. This increases the number of people discussing an idea, helping to gain a better understanding of the concerns each group brings to the table. It ensures that the labor group is on board with decisions and the department’s direction. Most importantly, it builds trust between labor and management.

It is also important to include labor in all planning programs. They need to have a seat at the table in all working groups, such as developing core values, strategic planning and accreditation, to name just a few. The union is a valuable part of the fire service and it is important for department executive staff to respect that. It is vital to keep the lines of communication open, listening and valuing other perspectives, even if some disagree.

The fire service is a great profession, one in which everyone wants to provide the highest level of service. Labor and management must work together to continue to provide that high level. This is difficult to do if there are barriers between the two groups.

Naturally, there will be disagreements, but as long as both labor and management know that both groups are working toward the common goal of providing the highest level of service, the organization will run much smoother.

The fire chief and the president of the union both need to always remember that we are a cohesive unit when dealing with emergencies, and we can work together to ensure that the highest level of service is provided to both the community and our firefighters.

Where there is trust and collaboration, the department will function as a well-oiled machine. If you are the leader of an organization and no one is following you, then what are you leading?


The Labor Management Alliance is a joint initiative of the IAFC and IAFF.  The program helps you develop new relations and improve existing relationships within your department and avoid critical labor-management issues, disputes and costly arbitration.  Contact LMA to learn more.
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