California Professional Firefighters

2nd District Report

Chris Mahon
California Defies National Trend: Increases Union Membership

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed an overall decline in union membership across the country, but with a few notable exceptions. California is one of those exceptions, showing instead a modest increase from 17.1% to 17.2%. Looking at the details of the report it’s easy to see some of the reasons why.

As in the past, public employees continue to hold a much larger percentage of union membership than the private sector. Yet public sector unions have been under consistent and coordinated attacks by those that would just as soon see them go away. Legislatively those attacks have sought to take away rights from union members. They have tried to take away everything from our right to participate in the political process to our right to collective bargaining.

In some states they have had success. Take a look at Wisconsin where they took collective bargaining from most public employees. We all heard about the negative impacts to public workers, even firefighters and cops who were supposedly exempt.

An unfortunate byproduct of that loss of rights has been a drop in union membership that contributed to the overall national decrease at a rate that is out of proportion to other states. Wisconsin’ union percentage dropped from 13.3% to 11.2%, which translates to a membership decrease of more than 15%.

Enter Prop 32. In California we faced the same type of attempt to take away key union rights; specifically our ability to participate in the political process. Unlike Wisconsin we were able to see what had happened there and in Ohio and learn from their experience. With that knowledge we laid out a plan and executed it.

In District 2 we contributed our time and our money to meet and exceed what was needed. Collectively we contributed more than was asked, and the result was a historic win that not only preserves our union rights, but helped California buck the national trend and actually gain union membership.

The preservation of our rights is directly linked to the endurance of union membership and unionism as a whole. The labor statistics report proves that. As locals, as a district, and a California union we should all be proud of what we contributed to the cause.

Long Beach City Staff Plots Shell Game with Federal Transport Money

California fire agencies that conduct transport services will soon be able to get federal money to reimburse the cost for transporting Medi-Cal patients. But if Long Beach city officials have their way, the department that is actually delivering the service won’t benefit from those new dollars.

At issue is CPF-sponsored legislation from last year – AB 678 by Assemblyman Richard Pan. The measure cleared the way for local agencies to apply for federal reimbursement of up to 50% of their uncompensated Medi-Cal transport costs. At the time it was passed and signed, state legislators clearly indicated their intent that these new dollars should flow back to the fire agencies themselves, to support critical public safety staffing and services.

But even though they can’t officially apply for the money yet, Long Beach city officials are already planning a fiscal shell game by taking an estimated $3.6 million in general fund dollars out of the fire department. And where would the money go? According to reports, $1.8 million would go to police overtime and another $1.8 million for “gender accommodation retrofits.”

“The intent of AB 678 was to provide a net benefit for fire departments, but the Long Beach City Council is instead planning on bringing the money in the front door and taking it out the back,” said Rex Pritchard, president of Long Beach Firefighters Local 372. “This leaves our already depleted department with no net gain.”

For Long Beach, the issue is more than just academic. Over the last eight years, the city has cut 30 sworn positions in the fire department, with levels not seen in four decades. This year alone, the city has closed at least one engine company and has already made plans to lay off another 21 firefighters as part of a $4.8 million cut. Should these cuts go through, Long Beach Fire Department will be responding to nearly 50,000 calls a year with the smallest firefighting force in nearly a century.

“With $4.8 million, you’re looking at approximately two fire engines and a paramedic rescue unit, so you are talking about station closures,” said Pritchard. “It makes zero sense to take that money without addressing our staffing levels. They want to spend money to fill potholes and plant trees and yet close fire stations. It baffles me.”

The proposed shell game is similarly baffling to the legislators who voted to pass AB 678. Three state senators from the area – Alan Lowenthal, Ted Lieu and Roderick Wright – all wrote letters to the City Council reinforcing the legislative intent that these federal dollars should be used to pay for fire services … not tree planting.

“The passage of AB 678 was clearly intended to give fire departments a net gain in their respective budgets and was intended to help support fire department staffing levels,” Lieu wrote. “It was my understanding that the passage of this legislation would help restore desperately needed Long Beach fire department sworn staffing levels.”

Local 372 isn’t letting the council off the hook, either for its AB 678 shell game or on the larger concerns about fire service cuts. The local is in the midst of a public information campaign targeting individual council members over reductions that will affect the response times in their districts. “If this is allowed to stand, I expect the summer budget will result in longer response times,” said Pritchard. “The citizens need to be aware of what’s at stake.”

In the meantime, the struggles being experienced by Local 372 are a reminder of the importance of staying on top of the AB 678 process and begin working today to ensure that these dollars go where they’re supposed to go. CPF has been working closely with state officials on finalizing the process for applying for these federal dollars. But ultimately, it is local agencies that will submit the applications and receive the dollars. CPF affiliates are advised to start communicating now with their council members to make it clear that you won’t stand by while these dollars are siphoned away.

“Although many fire departments and locals in California are overwhelmed, especially with the down economy, it is imperative that they stay vigilant and make sure these dollars are being spent appropriately,” said Pritchard.