California Professional Firefighters

"Silencing Your Voice" - Stopping the Corporate Power Grab

Silencing Your Voice … Not Theirs

Corporate Power Grab Initiative Protects Super Rich at Firefighters’ Expense

The anti-firefighter, anti-labor tidal wave sweeping across the nation has landed on California’s shores. And this time, it threatens to wipe out much of what has transformed firefighting from a hardscrabble part-time job to a proud and noble profession.

For the third time in 14 years, hard line enemies of working families have placed before voters an initiative to silence the voices of firefighters and other working people. This initiative, which is headed for the November ballot, seeks to choke off the ability of you and your union to participate in politics, all the while protecting the rights of corporations and the super rich.

The proponents call their measure “Stop Special Interest Money” but the language of the initiative reveals the truth – a Corporate Power Grab that muzzles working people but lets big money off the hook.

“Their endgame is crystal clear – silence your voice so they can steal your future,” said Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters. “This fight is about your job, your family, and the future of every Californian who works for a living.”

Unbalanced “Reform”

The centerpiece of the Corporate Power Grab is its restriction on your local union’s ability to exercise its basic political rights through voluntary payroll deduction. These modest voluntary deductions help insure that the firefighter voice can be heard above the roar of big money. Even with these voluntary deductions, corporations outspend unions in politics by a ratio of 15-to-one. This initiative would change that ratio from 15-to-one to 15-to-none.

Two previous “paycheck deception” initiatives – in 1998 and 2005 – were ultimately defeated when their special interest benefactors were unmasked. So this time, the big money interests took an even sneakier approach. Shrouding their attack in a cloak of “reform,” the proponents offer to ban all payroll deductions for corporations as well as unions. Only one problem: Corporations don’t use payroll deductions for politics. They just write big checks.

“They try to make this sound like it’s campaign reform, but that’s a smokescreen,” said Contra Costa firefighter Lisa Beaty. “This is about silencing the working person’s voice.”

Why It’s A Big Deal

In order to be heard at the bargaining table, firefighters must have a voice in the halls of power, and that means spending money to help elect firefighter-friendly candidates. “The gains that we’ve made didn’t come because fire chiefs and city managers were nice guys and wanted to do you a favor,” said Pasadena firefighter Don Cervantes. “Every inch was fought for and won at the bargaining table and at the ballot box.”

“If we only did one thing as a local, or through the CPF, it’s politics, because those (elected officials) are the ones who make the decisions on how you live and work day to day,” said Hayward Firefighters President Jason Livermore.

By silencing your voice in the political process, the end result of the Corporate Power Grab is clear: firefighters fall off the edge of an already tilted table.

What’s At Stake

Make no mistake: The fight over corporate deception is about much more than politics. The loss of a strong, united firefighter voice touches every area of your life on and off the job. “If we don’t have a voice in the process, management will have no reason to talk with us about anything,” said Livermore. “They can just do whatever they want.”

“We could potentially lose in collective bargaining, in pension reform, in a number of areas,” said Costa Mesa Firefighters President Tim Vasin. “Even benefits we’ve had for decades, such as presumption laws, could be gone instantaneously.”

Public Safety Under Attack

In past years, firefighters, police and other public safety personnel have been able to weather the anti-labor attacks thanks to a largely positive public image. No more. Now these same special interests have gone after public safety professionals over pay, pensions and job security.

In some egregious cases, such as Costa Mesa, it’s even been suggested that the entire fire department be outsourced. “We’re no longer protected by the so-called ‘hero status,’” said Vasin. “If we don’t have a voice in politics, they’ll outsource us just as quickly as parks or street repair.”

“Anyone who thinks we’re still ‘America’s Heroes’ and they won’t do this to us is a fool,” said CDF Firefighters Retiree Director Ray Snodgrass.

Fighting Back

Although previous attempts to muzzle public workers have ended in defeat, the challenge is great. As in past fights, the initial public polling favors the other side. The deceptive wording makes the hill that much steeper. And then there is the estimated $20 million or more that the other side is expected to spend to impose their attack. Already, high-profile super-rich ideologues like Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers have made the pilgrimage to California.

“We need more than ever to get out, talk to our friends, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in the firehouse and let them know what’s at stake,” said Paulson. “This isn’t just about firefighters or unions. It’s about basic fairness and democracy. It’s a fight we can’t afford to lose.”

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