BOSTON (State House News Service) - Firefighters at the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield will have the ability to form a union and gain collective bargaining powers like other firefighters around the state, under a bill approved by a legislative committee Wednesday.
Firefighters at the base, which hosts the F-15 fighter jets that make up the Northeast Homeland Security Defense Unit, have not been represented by a union since the federal government transferred them to state employees more than five years ago. The unit is same one that scrambled jets on Sept. 11, 2001.
Shifting the firefighters from federal to state employees came amidst a reorganization of federal resources and base closings. The move left the firefighters in "limbo," Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts , said after a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.
"What this does is recognize them as state employees and provide them the protections afforded to every other firefighter throughout the commonwealth," Kelly said.
Knapik said the firefighters are recognized as state employees, but not as a union.
"This allows them to have someone representing them at the table," Knapik said after testifying on the bill.
He pointed out that the firefighters also provide mutual aid support to Westfield.
"This bill gives them the respect they deserve, which I think is long overdue," Knapik said.
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