California Professional Firefighters

Determination and Commitment Unites Delegates at CPF Special Convention

Facing down an unprecedented anti-labor agenda sweeping toward California, delegates at this week’s California Professional Firefighters Special Convention committed to an all out fight against those who would steal the firefighter voice at the ballot box and the bargaining table.

The 2012 CPF Special Convention was called late last year amid the looming threat of a November initiative that would silence the voices of firefighters and working families. The Paycheck Deception initiative seeks to block the voluntary collection of dues through payroll deduction, while protecting the political muscle of corporate CEOs and the super rich.

If our union voice is silenced, we stand to lose everything – our retirement, our workplace safety, our bargaining rights … even our jobs,” said Hayward Firefighters president Jason Livermore. “We can’t afford to lose this fight.”

More than 330 delegates, chosen by their individual firefighter locals, participated in the one-day convention. They heard about the real threats posed to the lives and livelihoods of firefighters from IAFF leaders on the front lines in the national assault on working men and women.

In Wisconsin, firefighters joined forces with tens of thousands of public workers in noisy protest against that state’s anti-bargaining law. Despite its suspect legal foundation, the law remains in effect, and has resulted in massive layoffs, slashed pay and benefits and a deterioration of public safety.

We know what it’s like to have things we’ve worked years for taken away,” said Madison (Wisconsin) Firefighters President Joe Conway. “For us, this is not about what might happen if we lose our voice … it’s what has happened.”


Ohio Assn. of Professional Firefighters President Mark Sanders

In Ohio, firefighters helped lead a successful campaign to overturn a law abolishing collective bargaining. The overwhelming Ohio victory was sweet, said Sanders, but the national battle rolls on.

When (Ohio Gov.) John Kasich tried to take out labor, he didn’t just throw in the kitchen sink – he tried to take the whole kitchen,“ said Mark Sanders, president of Ohio Assn. of Professional Fire Fighters.We won a historic victory in Ohio, but it was not easy -- we were fighting for our existence as we know it, and it took everything we had to beat it.”

Much of the scapegoating of firefighters and other public workers comes at a time when corporate CEOs continue to make eight- and nine-digit salaries. As chair of the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, former state treasurer Phil Angelides saw corporate abuses up close, and said silencing labor’s voice allows these abuses to go unchecked.

“They don’t want to change the system,” said Angelides. "They want to change the subject.”


Voters in California have twice rejected Paycheck Deception laws, most recently in the 2005 with the defeat of then-Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Proposition 75. CPF President Lou Paulson warned delegates that the current version is cleverly drafted to give the appearance of balanced reform.

California Professional Firefighters President Lou Paulson

Corporations don’t collect dues – they collect profits,” said Paulson. “They’ll get to continue dipping into profits to buy influence, but union members won’t be able to pool their resources to match. That’s why it’s called Paycheck Deception.”

In sounding the alarm, Paulson and IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger pointed to four decades of progress in building pay, pensions, firefighter presumptions, death and disability benefits … even decent PPE and the Firefighters Bill of Rights.

Nobody gave us these benefits because we’re nice guys,” said Schaitberger. “We won them because your union had a strong, proud, united voice in politics.”

This is a fight we simply can’t afford to lose,” concluded Paulson. “At this convention, firefighters are taking a stand – we are in it to win it.