A Legacy of Leadership, A Future of Hope
This year, California Professional Firefighters marks its 75th year of commitment to making life better for firefighters, their families and their communities. Since its inception, CPF has been a steady, unifying force helping to advance firefighter rights and benefits.
In October of 1938, the United States was still in the midst of the Great Depression and headed toward a world war. That same month, the Federated Fire Fighters of California was established as the state council for the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Its mission: make life better for California firefighters and their families. Seventy-five years later, that same organization - now known as California Professional Firefighters - has held true to that mission. In the process, CPF has become one of the most innovative and influential labor organizations in the nation.
The story of California Professional Firefighters is really the story of the firefighter labor movement in this state. It is also the story of how firefighting came from an occupation populated mostly by volunteers to a sophisticated and highly-regarded profession. Over the course of its three generations, CPF has been at the forefront of virtually every significant advancement in the careers, health and well-being of California's first responders - from collective bargaining and presumption laws to the Firefighters Bill of Rights.
During the first half of the 20th Century, joining a union was a dangerous thing to do. When Federated Fire Fighters of California; which later became CPF; was chartered as the IAFF State Council in 1938, there were only seven active IAFF local unions in the state. After its first three decades of existence, CPF increased the number of local affiliates to 30 and was at the forefront of a signature event in the history of labor in California, the right to organize and collectively bargain. In 1959, FFFC helped to pass Assembly Bill 618, which was the first statute in California to explicitly recognize the right of any group of public employees to organize.
Since then, CPF has continued to expand its leadership in the state, becoming an influential force in the State Capitol. In 1982, Governor Jerry Brown signed CPF-backed AB 3011 into law, the nation's very first firefighter cancer presumption law, and CPF continued to strengthen California's cancer presumption laws throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s and beyond. CPF has won passage of countless other laws for the benefit of California's first responders, including statewide binding arbitration and the Firefighter Bill of Rights and, more recently, Workers' Compensation reform in 2012 and a ban on toxic flame-retardant chemicals in 2013.
To this day, CPF's leadership continues to leave its mark on the labor movement as a whole - most recently with 2012's successful campaign to defeat Proposition 32. CPF took the lead in the fight against Prop 32, which would have eliminated the political voice of all labor unions in the state. Together with our allies in organized labor, we were able to defeat this insidious measure by a larger margin than any of its previous iterations, with firefighters voting No on Prop 32 at a higher rate than any other labor union. But we could not celebrate for long. With numerous challenges on the horizon including the continued assault on public pensions, CPF remains "Always Vigilant" and stands ready to confront the challenges ahead.
Just like our predecessors, we are constantly defending our rights and preparing for the next fight. We have come a long way in CPF's 75 years, but cannot rest on our laurels and must instead continue to press forward if we hope to hold on to what we have gained. It's an honor to lead an organization with such a rich legacy of accomplishment, but our eyes are always fixed on the road ahead. Over the course of the next year, we look forward to recognizing both the successes of our past and the challenges of our future.