California Professional Firefighters

5th District Report

Mike Massone
Charting the Right Course

I remember once reading an ancient proverb that went something like this: “A boat doesn’t go forward if each one is rowing their own way.” As federal civilian firefighters, I know sometimes it feels like we are forced to “row our own way.” We’ve got smaller numbers, our employer is gargantuan and our “city council” – the U.S. Congress – is 3,000 miles away and dysfunctional to boot.

Even if we all row together, we’re going to need a bigger boat to get anywhere. Fortunately, here in California, we’ve got the flagship.

For over 75 years, California Professional Firefighters has been the loudest and proudest voice for federal firefighters in the entire IAFF. As early as the 1950s, CPF – then known as Federated Fire Fighters of California – was the first affiliate to advocate for full representation of federal firefighters on the IAFF Executive Board. Over the years, CPF has been our most powerful ally and advocate on the issues most critical to our lives and livelihoods:

Work hours/overtime: In the early days, federal firefighters lagged n the late 1970s, it was CPF (then Federated Fire Fighters) that mobilized its full lobbying efforts and the influence of local members on a bill to shorten the 72-hour workweek. Paul Wallace, one of my predecessors on the CPF Board, says Federated’s activism was key to getting the bill to President Carter’s desk. Though it wasn’t signed, the issue was joined, paving the way for the salary and overtime provisions we have today.

Job Security: More than any other state, California was hit hardest by the military base closings of the late 1980s and early 1990s – 32 installations were closed or realigned, and 93,000 civilian defense jobs were lost. “I was losing members all over the state,” recalled Ken Harrell, another of my predecessors on the CPF Board. CPF pretty much singlehandedly got legislation passed in Sacramento to create a displaced firefighter list that made it possible for the lateral hiring of federal firefighters into local and state departments. Kenny says “because of CPF, we saved those jobs.”

Survivor health care: A lot of you remember the Esperanza Fire, when five U.S. Forest Service brothers were killed. When it became clear that one of them had a family at risk of losing health coverage, CPF and our local brothers and sisters aggressively lobbied in Sacramento for a bill ensuring that our federal survivors had access to the same health benefits available to state and local California firefighters.

Beyond these and other accomplishments, I can tell you that nobody … nobody … moves the needle in Congress on our behalf like CPF. When our California contingent descends on the Capitol during IAFF lobbying days, the doors open for them because, chances are, it was the firefighters who helped get them elected. Our California representatives know them by name … they know me by name. And when we have an issue affecting our federal firefighters, it’s CPF that is usually mobilizing the army to charge up the hill.

CPF is also the “big dog” with IAFF, meaning that our issues here become their issues. Just this past year, it was CPF that brought our trade time inequity issue in front of the International’s convention delegates, in an effort to bring them in line with those enjoyed by municipal firefighters.

Because we are all in this together. I’m proud to say that we as federal firefighters have stepped up to the plate on behalf of our brothers and sisters … on pensions, on workplace safety and, most recently, in the attack on our political rights. And I am proud to participate in CPF’s lobbying efforts in Sacramento.

While I believe in the idea of union solidarity, this is not only about brotherhood. California is at the leading edge of every trend. If a bad idea succeeds here, you know the “brain trust” in Washington will try to send it back out everywhere. By the same token, ideas that benefit us all usually start here. We don’t even have a chance to fight for a cancer presumption unless California leads the way on the issue, as it has for over three decades.

Quite simply, CPF is the strongest voice for our profession outside of the IAFF, and hands down the strongest voice within the IAFF. Our active involvement with CPF opens doors that we could never open ourselves, even with IAFF. It puts us at the forefront of every issue that touches our profession. And it connects us with 30,000 of the men and women that we work alongside in service to our state and nation.

As part of CPF, we’re riding the battleship with our brothers and sisters in arms, not paddling in the rowboat hoping to be noticed. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be on the battleship.