The Columbus Firefighters Association voted this week to join the International Association of Firefighters, a labor group that represents more than 287,000 people worldwide.
"This means the Columbus Firefighters Association will have more resources to gather more information, access to education to learn more about employee rights and more benefits," said local president Bobby Dutton, a battalion chief in the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
At meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, 181 Columbus Firefighters sign up for the IAFF. They needed 147 members - just over half of the department's 293 field personnel - to sign up to approve the move. The local association has about 265 members of the Columbus Fire and EMS.
The membership ranged from firefighters to Chief Jeff Meyer and most of his command staff. The new active membership will be limited to those battalion chief or below, Dutton said.
"It will be open to anybody in the department, but some members in the chief ranks will be affiliate members," Dutton said. "People are looking for a place to voice their opinion and talk about their concerns so they can come up with solutions without feeling like they are being looked at or watched over by management."
Meyer said the decision by the association to join IAFF "was completely up to the employees."
"I didn't try to encourage or discourage the decision," Meyer said. "There was no input from management."
With the affiliation to IAFF, the monthly dues will increase from $10 per firefighter to $20. Public unions have no collective bargaining power in Georgia.
Dutton said he plans to meet with Meyer, Mayor Jim Wetherington and the 10 Columbus Council members in coming weeks. "I would like to explain to them how this can benefit us all," Dutton said.