[Excerpt] In recent years public sector unions have faced an increasingly difficult bargaining environment. The combination of a sluggish economy, cutbacks in federal aid, and citizen resistance to tax increases have forced state and local governments to reduce expenditures. In many cases antiunion public officials have used their budgetary woes as an excuse to attack the unions that represent government employees. Although these attacks occasionally amount to blatant union-busting, they more frequently involve subtle efforts to erode contract protections, fringe benefits, or bargaining units. One of the most prevalent methods for weakening public sector unions is the practice of contracting out or "privatizing" specific government services.
In 1983 the city of Dover, New Hampshire, reached an agreement with Wackenhut Corp. for the provision of fire protection services. Had it been implemented, the contract would have undermined the positions of two locals of the International Association of Fire Fighters (officers and fire fighters). Wages and benefits would have been reduced and hours of work increased. Furthermore, because the IAFF locals are certified under the New Hampshire public employee labor law, the bargaining units would have been erased by the change to a private sector employer.
The IAFF locals successfully challenged the contract that would have eliminated their members' public sector union jobs. There were four key aspects of their resistance effort: A campaign was waged to cultivate community support for fire fighters. This was supplemented by efforts to gain the assistance of other unions in the state. In addition, corporate research exposed many questionable practices of Wackenhut Corp. Finally, political action at the local and state level led to the ultimate defeat of the privatization proposal.
This case study of the Dover IAFF locals provides concerned trade unionists and labor educators with an example of an effective response to proposals calling for the privatization of services. Following a brief chronology of the Dover case, each of the key tactics is examined below in the reconstruction of the successful campaign to defeat this union busting effort.