PRESIDENT’S PERSPECTIVE | BRIAN K. RICE
Your Seat at the Table
From the Montecito mudflows at the beginning of the year to the deadly and destructive Camp and Woolsey Fires in November, our members answered the call during a difficult 2018. Incident after incident, each seeming a new, and frightening experience. These trials, and the many others that firefighters face daily, command those of us in the union to do everything we can to be there for you, so you can be there for everyone else.
That starts with a seat at the table.
The bargaining table is, of course, the most important table we need to be sitting at, but it’s not the only one. We also need to be at the table in Sacramento, when decisions are made that affect every firefighter’s life and livelihood on the job.
In the aftermath of the Camp Fire, I had the honor of escorting then-Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom as they reviewed the destruction. No cameras, no reporters … just frontline firefighters and the man who would be making decisions that would affect our profession.
Did it make a difference? Well, the day before he was sworn in, Newsom passed on the traditional inaugural parties to hold a fund raiser for the victims of the wildfires, through CPF’s California Fire Foundation. And on his first full day in office, Gov. Newsom committed hundreds of millions of dollars to fire response, prevention and forest management. The governor has also already followed through on his pledge to bring the firefighter voice directly into the administration with our members securing key appointments on the state’s EMS Commission and Public Employment Relations Board.
These victories for our members don’t just happen. They are earned by building relationships … relationships that start with political action. Our involvement in politics is anchored in the basic issues that affect our members’ lives on the job … pay, health care, retirement security, safety on the job, the resources to do the job. When leaders stand with us on these core issues … regardless of their party … we stand with them.
The relationships that are forged with candidates give us a seat at the decision-making table when those candidates become legislators … or the governor. I’m proud to report that more than 90 percent of the candidates supported by firefighters won their races, once again securing a pro-firefighter, pro-working family bloc.
As important as it is to have our voice heard in Sacramento, it is also important to have the firefighter voice heard in Washington, D.C. Early on in the Camp Fire, as our members worked themselves ragged pushing back the growing human tragedy, President Trump sent an ill-timed, ill-advised tweet threatening to cut off FEMA aid to fire victims. I heard about it from our members and it commanded a response. I will never back down when I think someone is going after our members.
I’m gratified to say that the president (mostly) changed his tune after that, and (except when the government was shut down) delivered the aid that was needed. Sometimes, you have to push your way to the table.
As we look ahead toward 2019, it’s clear we will need every relationship we have forged to fight the battles ahead:
Private Fire Companies: The recent fires called new attention to the privateers that are trying to move in on the California fire service, presenting themselves as “first responders” but only for those who have the money. Last year we successfully passed legislation to regulate these private fire companies, and will continue to be vigilant;
EMS Response: We’re seeing a renewed attack on public agency EMS response, from privatized ambulance response in Alameda County to a failed effort to privatize dispatch in Solano County. Whether in Sacramento or in the communities, we stand firm in our resolve that public safety is not a for-profit operation;
Retirement Security: With the California Supreme Court poised to rule on the California Rule (which protects pension commitments made by employers) CPF will work every avenue – legislative, political, regulatory – to ensure that, when it comes to retirement security, a promise made is a promise kept.
In these and other fights, I’m proud to say that your union will have that seat at the table. We may not always get our way, but we will be in the arena. To stay there takes vigilance and, more important, unity.
As it is on the front lines, so it is in the battle to secure a better life on and off the job: When we stand together, and fight together, we win together.