Groves, Port Neches firefighters must convince public in pursuit of collective bargaining power

Published 12:32 am Thursday, June 24, 2021

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Groves and Port Neches professional firefighters associations are busy collecting signatures in hopes of each placing propositions on the November ballot.

One issue is collective bargaining, which is a process many fire and police associations use as a way to iron out their contracts. Currently, Groves and Port Neches are largely governed under their city’s employee handbook.

The second is binding arbitration. This is where an unbiased third party is brought in to mediate between the association and city should each come to an impasse.

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Groves and Port Neches are the only two large fire departments in the Golden Triangle that do not have collective bargaining and binding arbitration, Tyler Hebert, president of the Port Neches Professional Firefighters Association Local 3713, said.

The push for collective bargaining and binding arbitration likely comes from the International Association of Firefighters and Texas State Association of Firefighters, both of which support these regulations.

The local organizations

Representatives of each association say they do not have any issues with their respective cities’ governance.

“I truly believe we are the best city around,” Haden Grove, president of Groves Professional Firefighters Association Local 1905, said. “We have always had a great relationship with our city admin and want to continue to do so. We have the perfect fire chief, who we love and support, Lance Billeaud.

“Chief Billeaud worked his way up through the ranks of our department and became the chief. We are more than glad to have him and hope to keep him for many years to come.”

Grove said the vast majority of police and fire departments are union and have collective bargaining that enables them to negotiate a contract with their cities.

“We believe that if we are successful in gaining collective bargaining and binding arbitration then we will continue to be the best and most professional fire department out there,” Grove said. “Also, be able to continue to hire and retain the caliber of professional firefighters that we have had for years.”

Hebert said collective bargaining and binding arbitration lays a foundation for future firefighters. He also acknowledged the firefighters who came before him whose hard work allowed him and others many benefits.

“People will ask why (does the association want this), are y’all having a problem? No, not really,” Hebert said. “We are open to communication with the city. This gives us a contract and lays out some of the things we want to try to increase and better our work environment. And it’s not just us, most of us are doing it for future firefighters.”

The petitions

Groves and Port Neches firefighters groups are each vying for different amounts of voter signatures.

In Groves, the association needs to collect the signatures of 333 registered voters who reside in the city for the collective bargaining placement on the November ballot. This amounts to 5 percent of voters in Groves who voted in the last election, according to information from the city of Groves.

For binding arbitration, which is a city charter amendment, they need 455 signatures from registered voters in the city.

In Port Neches, the association is seeking 348 signatures of registered voters in the city, which is 5 percent of voters in Port Neches who voted in the general election, according to information from the city of Port Neches.

For binding arbitration, also a city charter amendment, they need 432 signatures, which is 5 percent of the qualified voters in the city.

Monday is the deadline for the two groups to submit the petitions, after which a representative of each city will work with the county to certify the signatures.