Collins speaks at firefighters’ conference

In Washington, mayor discusses labor relations

Mayor D. Michael Collins speaks at the the International Association of Fire Fighters conference in Washington, D.C.
Mayor D. Michael Collins speaks at the the International Association of Fire Fighters conference in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — Ask not what a politician can do for you, but look at what he or she has done for you in the past.

That’s the message Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins had for hundreds of unionized firefighters at a conference Monday, a day before they disperse to legislative offices to make their case for pension reform, right-to-work legislation, and other top labor issues.

Mr. Collins was in town partly to take a victory lap after his firefighter-fueled defeat of union foe Mike Bell and partly to tell union leaders how to foster good relations with administrations of their own cities across the country.

“He knows what our members need to get the job done, and he has shown that he will stand with us in the tough, important fights for the men and women of his great city,” said International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger, a former fire lieutenant from Fairfax County, Va.

Mr. Collins was the only mayor on a speakers’ roster stacked with federal lawmakers and presidential advisers.

He was greeted with a standing ovation from firefighters who credit him with fighting efforts to repeal Ohio Senate Bill 5, which would have limited collective bargaining rights for state employees. Mostly, though, they’re glad he defeated Mr. Bell, who they view as an anti-union turncoat who was difficult to negotiate with.

In supporting the repeal, Mr. Bell said he wanted to be responsible to taxpayers, give cities more budget control, and protect against layoffs. That position inspired firefighters and other unionized workers to pump resources into defeating him. They’re pleased with the result.

“We’re not going to be happy with everything that happens, and we’re not expecting him to give us everything we want. We want to be heard and we want to be treated like the professionals that we are,” said Jeff Romstadt, president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, who attended Monday’s conference.

In the two months since he took office, his administration has resolved numerous grievances that had been lingering, and did so without resorting to divisive arbitration, Mr. Romstadt said. Those include agreements to provide tuition reimbursement for required paramedic courses and to rein in a management practice of visiting employees who called out sick to make sure they were at home. Mr. Romstadt said employees were being suspended for up to 15 days for not answering the door when out sick.

But Mr. Collins has detractors. Recently he was criticized for redirecting money from other line items, such as city swimming pools, to fund raises and additional sick days for unionized workers. Critics say the raises are payback for labor’s support of his mayoral candidacy.

Monday, Mr. Collins focused on the future. He said he’s looking forward to using interest-based bargaining for the first time during negotiations with city firefighters, whose contract expires Dec. 31.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is the Washington bureau chief for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her at:, 1-703-996-9292, or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.