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West Bloomfield Firefighters Join Protest in Lansing

Firefighters and police officers from throughout Michigan are opposed to a proposed bill that would change how contract negotiations are handled.

West Bloomfield firefighters were among hundreds of firefighters and police officers from across the state who rallied Wednesday at the state Capitol in Lansing to protest a bill that would repeal the binding arbitration law.

"I’ve always been active in state and international unions, but to have everyone come together and march on the Capitol was a good feeling," said Peter Zarek, 44, president of the West Bloomfield Professional Firefighters Union Local 1721. "I wish we weren’t there with all those departments for that purpose, but it felt good."

Eight firefighters from West Bloomfield, including two retirees, marched on Lansing, said Zarek, a 14-year veteran with the department. He said the success of the protest would not be known for some time. "Right now, we think that our voices were heard. We’lll wait and see if it comes out of committee. We’re going to keep it up and keep going," he said.

Firefighters and police officers are opposed to a bill introduced in the state House  Feb. 8 by Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland) that would repeal Public Act 312, which provides for binding arbitration between municipal governments and police and fire departments.

Under the act, in place since 1969, unions may not strike. Instead, a third party is brought in to hear all facts on the dispute and make a nonpartisan decision, which unions and governments are legally bound to follow. Firefighters and police say the act is desirable because it helps settle negotiations in a timely manner and helps mediate between their unions and government officials while ensuring they remain at work.

The current bill, HB 4205, would repeal the act in its entirety.

Haveman told Grand Rapids talk radio station AM 1230 that the act created "disproportionate (wage) increases for police and fire over other employees," because, he said, the binding arbitration favors unions and adds a high cost burden to city governments. "It's just not sustainable," he said.

– Dearborn Patch Editor Jessica Carreras contributed to this report. 

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