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Education Conference Summaries
Posted On: May 17, 2011

2011 WSCFF Educational Seminar

April 19-21 – Yakima, WA

Class Summary


Tuesday, April 19


IAFF 7th District Report – Ricky Walsh

Crisis felt across the country is finally reaching the 7th District, in states like Alaska, Idaho (firefighters are now the only employee group in state to have collective bargaining) and Montana.  We’re complicit due to our voting habits, taking the position of not raising taxes, cutting services to address budget concerns.  Need to watch closely what is happening in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and others.  Example in Washington State is HB 2068, which proposes cutting $15 million in state contributions into LEOFF 2, which results in total contribution cuts of $75 (state’s contribution portion is 15% of total).


Current Issues – Public vs. Private Unions – Elaine Bernard, Labor & Worklife Program @ Harvard Law

Public sector union members have surpassed private sector union members.  Public sector union members consist of 47% teachers and 43% other government employees.  Going after teachers, will then go after (in some cases already) other government employee union groups including public safety.  Private sector groups are going after the public employee union groups because that’s where a constant stream of money is (taxpayer dollars).  Another strategy is to get unions to spend down their financial resources in an attempt to permanently weaken unions.  Other strategies are to attack the process of union dues collection, organizing of unions, and collective bargaining.


We as union leaders as failing to explain what unions do.  We’re there to protect and exercise workers’ rights.  Unions are schools for democracy – where workers learn that they have a right to participate in decisions that affect them.  We also provide management with valuable feedback.


Safety Standards for Fire Fighters:  296-305 WAC

A rewrite of 1/1/1997 vertical standard was recently completed after years of work.  Governor Gregoire recently ruled to suspend the implementation of the revised standards until at least January of 2012.  A L&I Safety Compliance Supervisor and a member of the WSCFF Safety Committee (and Seattle FF) discussed the proposed changes.  The complete document with the proposed changes can be viewed at the L&I homepage by selecting the Safety tab, then selecting ‘F”.  Here is a review of the proposed changes:


The WAC (Washington Administrative Code) Safety standards haven’t changed since 1997.  A firefighter’s world has changed, yet Washington’s firefighter safety standards have not.  The process to begin rewriting the 296.305 standard began in 2007 with input from the Washington Fire Chiefs, Washington State Fire Commissioners Association, Washington Firefighters Association, and the Washington State Council of Firefighters.


The standard rewrite addresses many sections of the code, including:


Accident/Incident Investigation, Clarifying role of FD Health & Safety Officer, Management’s Responsibility, PPE and Protective Clothing, Personal Alert Safety Systems, Emergency Medical Protection, Hazardous Materials, Respiratory Protection, Aerial Apparatus, Incident Management, Fire Suppression (including mandating the use of SCBA during ALL overhaul), Technical Rescue, and the list goes on.  1296 will be reviewing the proposed changes to be better educated on what the WAC will be requiring in 2012 so we can proactively discuss with management how these changes will be addressed within KFD.


Navigating the WSCFF Disability Program

Karni Adamson and Becky Wallen from DiMartino Associates discussed the Short-Term/Long-Term disability program.  1296 currently have access to the Long-Term Disability (LTD) program.  The best thing to do if a member has any questions about their plan/coverage is to contact DiMartino directly and they will walk you through the process.


An important aspect to reiterate to members is that the LTD insurance can provide coverage and payment in the event of an on-the-job injury, even when L&I is involved.  Again, this is something that should be addressed with DiMartino when applicable.


1296 is in the process of having DiMartino representative(s) speak at an upcoming union meeting to review the plan in person, discuss changes, and answer any questions members have.  Members will be notified when that will happen.


Wednesday, April 20


(Re)Kindling the Union Spirit – John Kretzschmar, Labor Studies Institute @ U. of Nebraska, Omaha

The goal of the union is to get management to see you as equal partners.  Unions result in democracy in the workplace.  Apathy limits union power – without power, unions can’t do what they exist to do.  Unions are organizations that require more from its members than just the payment of dues.  Unions need their members to invest time and energy to make the union strong.


Fact:  1973 was the last year the average non-supervisory position salary stopped increasing (after adjusting for inflation).


A Fair Day’s Work for a Fair Day’s Pay – Unions and their members don’t want to raise their wages so high as to drive their numbers down and deprive the public of the quality fire service it deserves.  The real question is whether the elected and appointed Senior Decision Maker’s will always to the only side to determine what is a “fair” day’s wages.  Unions provide checks and balances.


To be effective, and to improve the Employer/Employee relationship, we have to use all four of the following tools all of the time:


1.       Collective Bargaining – The right to negotiate over wages, hours of work, and other terms and conditions of employment

2.       Organizing the Unorganized – Increasing union density to take wages out of competition

3.       Political Involvement – Insuring government looks after the “general welfare” of all of us and not just the interests of the wealthiest among us.

4.       Building Coalitions/Alliances with “like-minded” groups – Getting the numbers and influence needed to change the minds of employers and elected officials.





Fire Fighter Pitfalls:  Legal Options & Local Response – Golden, Skalbania, Starr & Stein

 Firefighters tend to have legal problems in two areas: DUI and Domestic Violence.  This class emphasizes how easily a firefighter can commit an act that can result in potentially career ending consequences.


Most firefighters are aware of the dire consequence of driving drunk, but the class emphasized that merely driving "buzzed" can be charged as DUI.  For most of of members, two or three 16 ounce beers will result in a blood alcohol level of .08 (you can be charges with levels under .08).  The financial consequences will be $10,000+ WHETHER OR NOT YOU ARE CONVICTED.  They will also likely be subject to an interlock device on their vehicle.  When is the last time you've seen an interlock device on a fire truck or engine?  A DUI conviction can be a career ending event!


Perhaps less well known is the increasing incidence of domestic violence (DV).  However, DV is not the actual crime.  Let's say you commit any one of  a number of crimes - theft, battery, assault - but it happens between you and someone you live with (including teenage children) or date.  It's the relationship between you that makes it domestic violence.  So, something as simple as theft can be a domestic violence crime if it is committed between domestic partners.  Theft by itself is a misdemeanor with no jail time.  However, the DV version of theft has severe consequences.


The attorneys say a common scenario they see if a firefighter taking a cell phone from their partner in an attempt to see who they are texting, calling, etc.  They just committed DV (theft).  Did you know that grabbing someone's arm while you explain your views during an argument is DV.  Did you know that blocking their exit through the door while arguing is DV?  Did you know that punching the wall during an argument is DV?  DV means MANDATORY arrest, mandatory jail time, enormous fees, and a restraining order.  So, imagine you live in Kennewick and just got a restraining order saying you have to stay 1/2 mile from you domestic partner's house.  Can you imagine telling your Chief that you cannot respond to the area of town.  DV can be career ending!


Building a Community Outreach Program – Ricky Walsh

Ricky discussed the importance of developing/participating in a community outreach program(s) to support important causes while at the same time gaining community’s support of unions.  Obviously, firefighters are a part of the community, too.  We must meet the community’s needs, be genuine in doing so, and work with management to get this done.  To be most effective in community outreach programs, we must have a plan, stick to it, apply for grants when applicable, and most importantly identify the long-term goal.


To build a program, we must identify the need in the community, determine the program and function of the program, its features, benefits and even possible misconceptions.  To make it work, we need member participation, in-kind contributions, donations, and grant writing experience (if applicable).


Some examples of community outreach programs include:


Phoenix Local – 20 years ago, the city of Phoenix had a high drowning rate due to high number of pools and a relatively low number of fences  surrounding the pools.  Firefighters developed a program to pay for and build fences around pools for those who could not afford them.


Vancouver Local 452:

·         Fire in the Park

·         Loaves & Fishes Luncheon

·         Adopt a Highway

·         Bike Helmets

·         BBQ @ Union Hall for Neighborhood Kids


Central Pierce Local 726

·         Station Open Houses

·         Smoke Detector Program

·         Easter Egg Hunt

·         Children’s Christmas Party

·         Holiday Food Basket Program

·         Car Seats

·         Life Jacket Program

·         First Aid & CPR Classes

·         Babysitting Class

·         High School Football Standbys


Decision Bargaining vs. Bargaining the Impacts – Skalbania, Lawson & Hurley

Whenever you are concerned about a change in working conditions that your employer is considering it is always important to analyze:

1)       Does your employer have a duty to bargain with the Local about only the impacts and effects on the Local’s members or the decision to change your working conditions; and/or

2)      Whether your employer has a duty to bargain with the Local about the decision to change your working conditions and the impacts and effects of that decision on the local members; and/or

3)      Whether your contract either allows the employer to make this change or prohibit the employer from making a change or does not address it at all.


This analysis is important, because if the employer has a legal responsibility to bargain about a particular decision to change your working conditions and about the impacts and effects of that decision, then the employer will not be able to legally implement its decision until such a time as the bargaining process between the Local and the employer has been fully completed.


If the employer is only required to bargain the impacts and effects, they have the right to implement their change prior to the conclusion of any bargaining, provided the employer offered and/or agreed to bargain with the Local about the impacts and effects on the members of the Local.


Post-Retirement Medical Options – Fox & Markley

A handful of departments across the state have worked with their employers to develop an incentive for firefighters to leave employment with their department at or after retirement age, in return for payment of medical insurance premiums (or a portion thereof) until a specified date (i.e. Medicare-eligible age).  This encourages members to leave earlier than possibly they had anticipated and helps them with insurance costs, and helps the department by having those members with higher longevity pay, etc., leave and be replaced by lower-costing employees.  1296 will continue to research this.



Updates were given on the MERP program.  Some things to know about MERP:

·         Locals can choose their contribution amount

·         Contribution amount must be a multiple of $25 beginning with $75; and there is a maximum contribution amount limit

·         Contribution must be the same for all in the bargaining unit

·         Both the contribution amount and received benefit is tax free

·         Active Service Units (ASU) are earned for each $25 contributed into the Trust.

·         As of 9/1/09, the Unit Multiplier (UM) for each ASU is $0.42.  This amount can change over time depending on such things are investment returns, etc.

·         For example, if a member retires with 1,500 ASUs, their monthly maximum benefit towards out-of-pocket medical expenses will be $630 per month.  Again, this amount will fluctuate, up or down, based on the UM.


Those are the basics of the program, but feel free to contact Andy Finley if you have additional questions.










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