|IAFF 19TH ANNUAL NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE CONFERENCE|
|By: Frank Kelly, Secretary|
|Last week I attended the IAFF 19th Annual National Legislative Conference in Washington DC with President John Hanley and Treasurer Tom OConnor. The purpose of our attendance was to advance the legislative and political goals of the IAFF. Our grassroots lobbying with Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer, Congresswoman Pelosi and Congressman Lantos will prove beneficial to paramedics and firefighters in San Francisco and our Brothers and Sisters nationwide. While Local 798 is the bargaining agent for the members of the SFFD, we must remember that our work does not only impact San Francisco. The relationship that we have with California Elected officials helps out locally but also nationally.
Fortunately for us in San Francisco, most of the issues discussed involve rights that the San Francisco Fire Department has already fought for and won over the years. We must not take it for granted that other agencies are still fighting for rights that we have already won.
Heart and lung diseases are a leading cause of death and disability among the firefighters. In recognition of this fact, 38 states (including California since the early 1960s) have enacted presumptive disability laws. No such law covers fire fighters employed by the federal government. The current legislation that is being drafted in Congress establishes a disability presumption for federal fire fighters suffering from cardiovascular diseases. In California, we are also protected with presumptive laws for cancer. In addition, this past year we have successfully lobbied for presumptive Hepatitis C laws through legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Carole Migden and supported by Assemblymember Kevin Shelley.
One of the other current pieces of legislation is the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act. This piece of legislation will make it possible for our Brothers and Sisters nationwide to have the same rights that we have here in California: basic collective bargaining rights. Specifically the legislation guarantees the right of public safety officers to form and join a union and it provides for enforcement of contracts through state courts.
President Bush has recently line itemized out of the budget a $300 million allocation for the firefighters. The Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement Act (F.I.R.E.) was signed into law on October 30, 2000. The F.I.R.E. Act created a new federal grant program, enabling the federal government to provide $100 million for the current fiscal year, and then $300 million for next year, FY 2002. President Bushs changes to this Act mean that the allocation has changed from $300 million back down to $100 million. We want to get everything that was promised to us. The FIRE Act needs to be fully funded in FY 2002 to protect the health and safety of our nations fire fighters. Congress appropriates $4.6 billion annually for law enforcement. The FIRE Act is just a fraction of that amount. There is no doubt that this is a direct result of firefighters being the first union to support Al Gores run for Presidency. The current legislation will hopefully win back the $200 million that was appropriated to us.
An issue of particular concern to the IAFF and the rest of organized labor is paycheck protection. The current Campaign Finance Reform legislation is designed to cripple the ability of labor unions to represent their members legislative and political interests. Make no mistake about it; our support of local, state and federal legislatures is imperative to getting laws passed that protect us. The IAFF opposes proposals to restrict fire fighter involvement in the political process, including placing further restrictions on the use of union dues. Attacks on union dues unfairly target working people. Without comparable restrictions on corporations, any paycheck protection proposal will deny working families the ability to fully participate in the political system. Until they stop corporate welfare and until they stop accepting corporate donations, it is unfair for them to attack union workers.