On most days, Kevin Bruch toils away on cars at his Brooklyn Park auto repair shop.
But when he's not busy being a mechanic, he's performing duties for the Brooklyn Park Fire Department.
"I'm in my 14th year as a firefighter with Brooklyn Park," Bruch said. "I started off as paid on-call and when the pager went off I'd leave the house or leave work and go to the call."
Now, he's working 20–plus hours a week for the department. Yet, last year Bruch decided to explore the idea of organizing a labor union because he and other part–time firefighters don't receive health benefits.
"The city has a part–time policy when they hire on as a part–time employee that you can get part–time benefits," Bruch said. "Wouldn't that apply to us? it's not right. That's not fair."
The city says it's because the firefighters weren't considered public employees. That's defined as someone who works at least 14 hours a week.
"We don't actually do most of the scheduling," said Brooklyn Park City Manager Jamie Verbrugge. "There was a great deal of question in our mind whether [the firefighters] met that public employee definition based on that 14 hours a week."
Minnesota's Bureau of Mediation Services determined that 30 firefighters met that "public employee" definition, which means they're now eligible to vote on unionization. But the reaction has been mixed.
"Some people are, 'Hey great, this is what we want to do,'" Bruch said. "And some people don't feel that we should be doing this."
That's where Eric Lehto of AFSCME Council 5 comes in.
"In the next few days, we'll be meeting with a variety of different firefighters, assessing what their desires would be," Lehto said.
Both Bruch and Lehto say the momentum to form a union has lost steam because of the drawn-out process.
"So now we've got to get that momentum going again," Bruch said.
For the union to take effect, more than half of the firefighters who vote would have to be in favor. Bruch, however, said he's not sure if and when it will come to a vote.
Meantime, neither side was sure what a potential labor union would cost the city.
June 8, 2012