Some of the most vocal opponents to volunteers being used to replace employees and save money are volunteer managers and volunteer management consultants.
Yes, the people who are in charge of promoting volunteer involvement in nonprofits and in singing the praises of volunteers are the same people who balk at the idea of paid staff being let go and replaced with unpaid staff in order to balance the books.
We volunteer managers and volunteer management consultants believe passionately that volunteers have a much more important value than saving money:
- involving volunteers gives community members a first-hand look at organizations and issues important to their neighborhoods, environments and families.
- involving volunteers gives the community a feeling of ownership in an organization or issue.
- involving volunteers creates advocates for an organization or issue, advocates that a lot of government officials and potential funders will listen to with particular interest since they have no financial stake in the organization they are promoting.
- involving volunteers gives a diversity of people a voice in the organizations that involve them.
- involving volunteers augments the work of paid employees.
- some tasks are more appropriate for volunteers than paid staff, not because of level of responsibility but because of the kind of task. This can include everything from mentoring programs to disaster services (the majority of services by the American Red Cross and Girl Scouts of the USA, to name but two organizations, are delivered by volunteers, and that is NOT to save money!)
We volunteer managers and volunteer management consultants continually speak out against volunteers used as replacements for paid staff in order to save money.
So it’s with a great deal of confusion, sadness, and even anger that I recently discovered that the International Association of Fire Fighters, a labor union in the USA representing professional firefighters, is against volunteer firefighters:
Let me be as clear as possible. We as a union, by Convention actions, do not represent or condone volunteer, part-time or paid on-call fire fighters… We as a union, by Convention actions, do not represent or condone volunteer, part-time or paid on-call fire fighters… Although an IAFF member may make a personal choice to join a volunteer fire department, that personal choice is one that can have serious consequences under our Constitution, including the loss of IAFF membership.
Harold A. Schaitberger
International Association of Fire Fighters
September 20, 2002 letter to all IAFF Affiliate Presidents 1
Volunteer firefighters could have stood side-by-side with IAFF members and fought against budget cuts or efforts to replace paid staff with volunteers over the years. Volunteer firefighters could have fought together to ensure firefighting programs are fully funded. They could have been united in calls for firefighters, paid or volunteer, to receive all the training that is needed among all firefighters, paid or unpaid. Instead, the IAFF has declared war on volunteer firefighters — and volunteers in general.
In a meeting with a representative of the State of Oregon Fire Training Section last year, I was informed that the agency makes no distinction among professionals or volunteers when delivering or certifying firefighting training. To them, they are all firefighters, and they are judged on their official credentials and experience, period, not whether or not they are paid.
As it should be.
Before 1850, no city in the USA had fully paid, full-time firefighters.2 Cities began to employ full-time firefighters when people realized full-time firefighters were needed to deal with the number and kind of fires happening in large cities. The USA is now a mix of paid and volunteer-staffed fire houses. But at some point, some paid fire fighters in the USA decided volunteers were a threat. And the IAFF has made that schism official.
This is in stark contrast with Germany, a country that is frequently derided by various folks here in the USA for being too inflexible in its labor laws and government social safety nets, all of which are most definitely pro-labor. It may come as a shock to you, if that’s your point of view, that Germany has a much longer tradition of volunteer firefighting than the USA; many of its volunteer fire companies are much older than our own country. Paid firefighters see no threat from volunteer firefighters, and the firefighting union there happily allows professional firefighters to volunteer in fire fighting stations in their own villages where they live (in contrast to the big cities where they work). I can find no record of a professional fire station in Germany having been converted into an all-volunteer station in order to save money. Even now, Germany has more volunteer firefighters, per capita, than in the USA, and no professional firefighter has lost his or her job to a volunteer.
IAFF’s position on volunteer firefighters is outdated, misguided, outrageous and wrong-headed. It does nothing to protect the jobs of paid firefighters. The consequences of that stand are to the detriment of communities, citizens and environments — and even to paid firefighters themselves.
I could also write an entire blog about the fallacy of the word “International” in IAFF’s title, but I’ll save that for another time.
I hope that state and local volunteer management associations all over the USA will take a public stand on this issue. Please blog about it. Please put something in your Facebook status about it. Tweet about it. Put something in your newsletter about it. Maybe we can help IAFF see that volunteers are not a threat, that volunteers are, in fact, in support of career firefighters. Maybe IAFF members will seek new leadership that understands this.
- National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) “Right to Volunteer” effort
- Recent NJ Two-Hatter Situation Not an Isolated Incident
- The Fire Fighter Union Movement and the Volunteer Fire Service from VolunteerFD.org
- Brother vs. Brother, by Michael J. Ward, MIFireE Fire, Science Program Head, Northern Virginia Community College
- Union Czars Bully Volunteer Firefighters, article from National Right to Work Committee