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Can Borough Firefighters Unionize?

The answer to whether Emmaus Borough Firefighters can form a union awaits a decision from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

By Jack Tobias

Are Emmaus firefighters borough employees?

That's the issue a Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing officer will have to do decide following a more-than-six-hour hearing Thursday in Harrisburg.

John Pozniak's ruling will impact borough firefighters' efforts to form a union and conduct collective bargaining with Emmaus.

Pozniak said he would issue his ruling at a later date, according to a story in The Morning Call.

Patch took a look at the issue in a story posted Dec. 29.

According to The Call story, some of the players at Thursday's hearing were:
  • An attorney for the Pennsylvania Fire Fighters Association, which has requested permission to represent 27 Emmaus firefighters in collective bargaining with the borough. The attorney -- Matthew Areman of Philadelphia -- said Emmaus firefighters are paid rates set by the borough, have their taxes withheld by the borough, and are issued W2 forms from the borough each year.
  • Borough firefighters Shawn Lubenetski and Troy Raab, who testified on behalf of the fire fighters association.
  • Borough attorneys Jeffrey Dimmich and Thomas Dinkelacker, who said the borough merely distributes a lump sum to the fire department each year to use at its discretion and that Borough Council has no control over the department's operations.
  • Borough manager Shane Pepe, who said in the Patch story that borough firefighters are volunteers, not employees, and thus cannot form a union.
Others points from the Patch story include:
  • The borough already pays some salaries and benefits to fire department personnel. It also provides stipends to encourage volunteer participation. According to 2011 figures provided by the borough, Emmaus paid $423,411 for fire operations, plus $321,581 in salaries and benefits for a total contribution of $744,992. That came to 8.5 percent of the $8.68 million general fund budget.
  • Borough council has introduced a proposed ordinance that would apply to fire department operations.
  • The borough gets state aid for fire department operations in the form of a "foreign fire" tax. The word "foreign" refers to out-of-state companies that provide insurance to in-state properties.
Sheriffchris January 13, 2014 at 12:05 PM
Are they volunteers or are they actual employees. Do they have any of the normal benefits that employees get ? Is there an hourly or daily rate for their service ? The money they received was it SALARY or INCENTIVES ? Many districts have incentive arrangements to keep volunteer membership up. No matter how this comes out, Fire Fighting in Emmaus will never be the same !!

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