The Branson Fire & Rescue firefighters and engineers’ vote to join or not join the International Firefighters Association Thursday could be a matter of what lies ahead.

International Firefighters Association Local 154 President Shawn Martin said a new leader in the mayor’s office and change in human resources personnel could change the status quo for the employees.

“Some of the reason why is just preparing for bad times,” Martin said. “Getting a union in place while times are good, then when times are bad, they’ll have a union body there to represent them.

“The city of Branson has been posting notices in the station under lock and key behind a glassed-in bulletin board. It goes to the point of twisting information, of presenting things very biased, very negative. I think that’s turned a lot of employees to realize the city of Branson is not above acting unethically when the mood suits them.”

Branson Administrator Bill Malinen confirmed the city has been sharing information of why a union may not be in the best interest for

all parties. Furthermore, he says the reasons cited for unionization are “hogwash.”

“I think, hopefully, they (Fire & Rescue employees) have taken to hear the kinds of information we’ve shared that points out why we don’t think it’s in their best interest, or the city’s best interest, or the taxpayers’ best interest, and remind them we’ve supported them in good times and bad,” Malinen said. “So when they say something about this being proactive because there could be wages effected or lay-offs in the future, I’ll give you another ‘hogwash’ because we’ve taken care of them all their careers. One of our longest tenures in all of our organization is in our fire department.”

Malinen said he told the Fire & Rescue employees “that the union is a business, the union is out to get people to join up and give them $50 per month.”

The membership is $55 per month, Martin said.

“Things may be good now — we’re not arguing they’re not,” Martin said. “As we see these two major changes in the past few months, what changes can we expect in the next 12, 24, 36 months?”

Malinen said no one in Branson’s highest elected office, nor employees under him could have any effect on employee benefits without going through the city administrator.

“Having these changes are really inconsequential to not only our firefighters but all of our employees,” Malinen said. “We’ll continue to do the work of supporting all of our employees, as we have for decades, into the future with different mayors or different HR directors and I suspect, given the culture of Branson, different city administrators, as well. People will always come first.”

Martin said the International Firefighters Association is keeping quiet and letting the Fire & Rescue employees take in the information they’ve received from his organization and vote accordingly with their views. He said his organization is taking the opposite approach of the city, which he referred to as daily bombardment.

A simple majority is needed by the firefighters and engineers to join the union. Martin said, from all indications, he expects 22 to 25 people to support unionization. There are 33 people participating in the vote. A simple majority would be achieved with 17 votes to join.

Malinen said, no matter the outcome Thursday, the city will work to keep the employee body whole.

“We would work to heal any divisions that have occurred from this,” he said. “I think it’s possible there can be division already from the possibility of unionization, successful or not,” he said. “If it’s not successful, and we discover there are some hard feelings, we need to work immediately to heal those. If there is a union, it may be a more constant type of effort.”

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