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Firefighters get collective bargaining on ballot; differing opinions shared at Groves meeting

GROVES — The Groves city council voted unanimously Monday to allow residents to have a say on whether or not the the city’s fire fighters will be able to collectively bargain.

The issue will appear on the Nov. 2 election ballot after the firefighters were able to obtain enough signatures on their petition.

The fire fighters unionized towards the end of 2019 and joined the International Firefighters Association and Texas State Association of Firefighters shortly after.

“Today we wanted to get binding arbitration and collective bargaining on the ballot so citizens could vote to approve or deny,” said Hayden Grove, the union’s president. “It gives us a seat at the table to negotiate for wages, fringe benefits, safety and anything like that… It protects the firefighters and their families. It is their livelihoods. It could affect the citizens. It is good for everyone.”

The vote would also amend the city’s charter.

Grove said there was no particular issue that caused the firefighters to seek change.

“We have a great fire chief and a great city administration,” Grove said. “It is something that is common place in most cities. I believe our police department does it, along with Nederland, Port Arthur and Beaumont. Everyone goes straight to there being an issue, but there is not.”

Councilman Paul Oliver questioned the need for collective bargaining.

“It makes you wonder why someone has to now negotiate for the department other than the department,” he said. “You are taking it outside of the city and have someone else negotiate for you.”

Grove said the firefighters would have a committee to negotiate on their behalf.

“We wouldn’t go outside,” Grove said. “…It is not that anybody wronged us or that we expect anyone to wrong us…Up to this point, I think we have been treated pretty well.”

Both council and Grove reiterated to the public that there is no threat of a strike, which is against the law for emergency responders.

Bob Stevens, of Groves, said he thinks the firefighters are “trying to fix something that isn’t broken.”

Mayor Chris Borne said Stevens and the rest of the residents have their chance to express their feelings in November.

“He got a petition signed and he has a right to do that,” Borne said to Stevens. “…You have the right to vote ‘no,’ but everyone else has the right to vote ‘yes.’ It is a very democratic procedure here.”

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