Asheville Fire Fighters Association, Local 865, IAFF
IAFF Local 865 in Asheville North Carolina was chartered May 10, 1946, but the IAFF history goes back to 1932. On May 2, 1932, fifty (50) fire fighters of the Asheville Department signed application cards to join the IAFF and became IAFF Local No. 332. According to the Central Labor Union President, W.B. Plemmons, who had organized the Local, this was 90% of the Department. Additional documents from that time indicate that five other fire fighters were ready to join.
Due to the lack of historical documents, it is unclear what happened to the local after that. Local 332 member Chester Hensley had this account. He recalled that the local was a big benefit. Before the Local was organized they were working four 24 hour day shifts with one day off. Fire fighters were allowed to go home for very short periods to pick up clean clothes and perhaps to eat a meal and to bring back food to eat at the station. Chester said that the organizing of the Local helped change the four day shift to a two day shift and one day off.
After WW II, the Local was again organized by AFL Organizer James F. Barrett on May 10, 1946. In a letter to IAFF Secretary-Treasurer, George J. Richardson, Mr. Barrett stated:
“Dear Brother Richardson: You have a real good Local Union at Asheville. It is 100 per cent. The 62 firemen whose names appear in the minutes as having been obligated, being all men eligible for membership. The spirit is good, I can assure you, and I am confident that you are going to have cause for being proud of this new Local.”
The accomplishments of the Local were well documented during that time. In a 1951 July-August issue of the NC Federationist magazine, under the picture of the officers of the organization, Lt. A.W. Duckett, Capt. J.L. Dalton, O.O. Watts, C.D. Hensley, H.O. O’Connor, R. Merrill and L.E. Williams, the following story was published:
“Local Union No. 865 was organized five years ago, as a result of the Southern Labor Conference held here that year in May. A few advantages and advancements made by the Firefighters as a result of forming this Local Union include: Increase in pay from $161.30 a month then being paid, to the present salary of $240.00 a month, senior firemen. The 10 day vacation period in effect five years ago increased to 15 days each year. A sick-leave period to 15 days each year, cumulative to 120 days.
Best of all gains, however, is found in a civil service law that protects members of the department in all matters, from wrongful discharge to promotions, with seniority closely guarded.
Members of the Fire Department now and for some time have been enjoying one day off each week. Before organization, members had no off-day at all, working seven days a week.” (Note: Shifts were 12 hours)
In 1953 Local 865 purchased what eventually became the Asheville Fire Fighters Camp on Clayton Road. The house on the property was given to the Local and moved from West Asheville. The basement for the house and the pavilion and cooking shed were built by the Local’s members. As a result of their foresight and hard work, this property has been a benefit to Asheville Fire Fighters for over fifty years.
As active and productive as the Local was during the 1940’s and 50’s, the North Carolina State Legislature brought all this to an end in 1959. On June 3, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that barred public employee’s union membership in the State. On July 3, 1959, Local 865, along with all other IAFF Locals in the State, ceased to exist.
With a knee-jerk reaction to Teamster’s President Jimmy Hoffa trying to organize the Charlotte Police, Representative Frank Snepp of Mecklenburg sponsored House Bill 118 to prohibit union membership for fire fighters and police. While the bill was unconstitutional, this did not seem to matter to most legislators who were petrified of the Teamster Boss.
In March of 1969, a three-judge federal panel from the 4th District called the 1959 law --
“void on its face as an abridgement of freedom of association protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States.”
As a result of the Court’s decision, on June 2, 1969, Local 865 reorganized with 100% membership of the department’s 122 members. Seven months later on January 29, 1970, the local joined with eleven other North Carolina IAFF Locals and chartered the North Carolina Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Sadly, being unable to collectively bargain and having poor results with the City Council right out of the Gate, local members became disheartened. On December 12, 1972, the Local’s President and Secretary-Treasurer turned in the Local’s Charter to the IAFF. Local members had been convinced by City Leaders that they could accomplish more with an unaffiliated association than they could with the Union.
In March of 1973, the Fraternal Order of Firefighters, Inc. was organized. The City Mayor, Fire Chief and past Union Leaders were quoted in the Hose and Nozzle Magazine as praising the new organization and the grand opportunity it held for Asheville Fire Fighters.
To make a long story short, over the next three years, Asheville Fire Fighters noticed they were further away from increased benefits and better working conditions than they ever were as an IAFF Affiliate. Also, during this time they found they were all alone. The FOF’s officers had no one to go to for information or other assistance.
On March 1, 1976, the Asheville Fire Fighters again reorganized with the IAFF. Of the 132 members of the Department, 101 names were listed on the 1976 Charter and another 25 joined within a few months. Since the reorganization in 1976, the Local has been going strong for over 28 additional years advocating for the rights and benefits of the City’s Fire Fighters.
One notable accomplishment came in 1978. Local 865 delegates left a NC Professional Fire Fighters Association meeting in Raleigh and visited with then Senator Bob Swain at the General Assembly Building to ask for assistance with the Asheville Firemen’s Relief Fund. Networking with other IAFF Locals, they had discovered they were the only city fire fighters in the State who were not receiving benefits from their Relief Fund money.
In 1959, just after the North Carolina Legislature disbanded fire fighter unions, the City of Asheville had legislators introduce a local bill so they could control the money that was mailed to the Firemen’s Relief Fund from the North Carolina Department of Insurance. Consequently, between 1959 and 1979, the City intercepted approximately $169,000 of the Firemen’s Relief Fund Money. None of the money was ever returned to the Firemen’s Relief Fund Account.
As a result of the visit by Local 865 members, Senator Bob Swain introduced a bill to return the Relief Fund money to the control of the Asheville Firemen’s Relief Fund Board of Trustees. Currently, the Relief Fund has over $700,000 in it and growing every year. At the request of Local leaders in 1978, Senator Swain also set up the Supplemental Retirement Fund for eligible retirees. This benefit alone is worth several times over to Asheville Fire Fighters than what Local 865’s dues will cost them over a 30 year career.
The Local has also fought off three attempts by the City to do away with the grievance system in the Asheville Civil Service Laws as well as other benefits Asheville Fire Fighters enjoy today. More recently, the Local regained control of the Fire Fighter’s Camp on Clayton Road (Read More). This piece of property is slowly but surly becoming a great place for members to take their family for picnics or have family reunions or just to relax.
The History of the Asheville Fire Fighters Association, Local 865, IAFF, is not over yet. Its members are making history as we speak. It is hoped that you will become active and make this organization work for you. Working together, we will be able to accomplish almost anything.