12th District Vice President
As I begin this report, I remember the many members and friends who we have lost to career-related illnesses, off-duty accidents and other causes, as well as family members who we have lost. Some, such as 48-year-old Brother Iran D. Rivers, who was found deceased in his bunk following a shift in Hillsborough County, FL, make me wonder at those politicians, chiefs and administrators who continue to deny the effects of our profession on the health of our members.
This is without even going into the details of the scores of injuries, many of them debilitating, disabling and even career-ending. In all of the states in our district, the battles to maintain safe and adequate staffing, long-standing pension benefits, health insurance and even the basic right to organize have become so extreme and severe that issues of workers’ compensation and presumptive disease and illnesses have had to take something of a back seat.
Since my last Convention report, two losses in particular remain in my mind and heart, serving as reminders that we can find ourselves needing the services and care of our own members and communities. On Aug. 9, 2013, Shane Anders, the son of Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics of North Carolina President David Anders, was killed in an automobile accident while on his way to work. Shane was a gentle, spiritual man. In 2007 he published a book titled “Poems of Praise and Worship,” selections from which were read at his memorial service. This gave some insight into the fine young man that Shane was, and what his passing meant to his family and friends. Anybody who has suffered a deep loss of their own knows that David and Kathy Anders are among the first and strongest friends to come to our aid and assist in any way that they can. I know that Shane’s loss continues to cause moments of deep pain for them, and I know that their faith and the continued prayers of friends are a comfort to them.
On Feb. 2, 2014, while riding bicycles with his wife, High Point, North Carolina Local 673 President Todd Martinez was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, who was subsequently caught. His loss as a friend was felt by the many people, including former co-workers who traveled from as far away as California to personally express their respects. His loss as a union officer and leader is immeasurable. He was persistent in his efforts on behalf of High Point fire fighters, and I am sure that the effect of those efforts spread far outside of High Point. His Chief expressed to me his respect for Todd and for his effectiveness in pursuing issues. Todd was among the very best of our local leaders with regard to using IAFF resources, technical services, research and information, as well as other sources such as the NFPA, to make his points professionally and capably. He was among the very first to see the importance of the NIST studies, and he quickly began to use them. During my term of office, I had seen Todd address his members’ exposure to Haz-Mat, station conditions and hazards as well as staffing. Nearly two months before his passing, he was working diligently on compliance issues regarding turnout gear, once again using the best information for the best effect. Many of his own experienced leadership team expressed their concerns as to how they could ever replace Todd. It certainly won’t be easy for a long time.
Reading over the past several convention reports for our district, I fear that they begin to sound like the old broken records that play the same thing over and over. For many of us in our district, the signs of economic recovery seem pretty clear, except when it comes to public employees, including fire fighters. The attacks on defined-benefit pensions continue, even if the pension is well-funded and/or already below average in benefits. It is clearer than ever that we are dealing with philosophy far more than issues of money. Over the past few years though, it has become easier to see who our adversaries are and how well-funded they are. Groups like ALEC work with the League of Cities and League of Municipalities to push forth “cookie cutter” legislation in many states, most of which are contrary to our best interests and are often even contrary to the operational integrity and effectiveness of our departments. The Koch brothers appear to fund large parts of such efforts as well, while The Pew Research Center and the John and Laura Arnold Foundation distribute questionable studies attacking many aspects of public employment. In one form or another, their efforts have created difficulties for our members throughout our district and most of the IAFF. The bit of good news, though, is that these individuals and groups are being called out into the light of transparency by journalists, politicians and even civic leaders who see the dangers in such a limited group having so much control and influence over government.
I will not belabor the point, but many of us have increasingly speculated as to how much longer so many of our members can take social and political positions which are so adverse to their own well-being, and the concerns which they themselves often expressed to us. General President Schaitberger often points out that “elections have consequences,” and that “elections matter.” Of course, he is correct. Anybody who has found themselves on the wrong side of a court decision, as we often do in our district, begins to ask themselves, “How did that judge get on the bench? Who appointed him/her? Who will appoint the next judges, be they federal or state?” Politicians and political parties run on platforms and issues, and they are there for everybody and anybody to see, if they will.
Nowhere in our district have the courts come into our efforts for more time than in North Carolina. In addition to their legislative agenda, PFFPNC President David Anders has worked to keep the IAFF involved in fighting for the basic rights of union organization and activities of his members. At this time, we have several guardian cases in process which, due to their active status, I will defer discussion of them to any extent. Suffice it to say that in all of the cases, it was unilateral, unreasonable actions of cities, counties, and chiefs, usually in response to the reasonable and legal activities of our leaders and members. The PFFPNC has a cadre of young and aggressive leaders on their Executive Board who have expressed a desire to be more aggressive in organizing new locals, especially those in which we eventually stand to make substantial membership and activity gains. Salisbury is one of the most recent and worthy examples. However, as is so often the case in organizing new locals in North Carolina, the almost immediate reaction is to dismiss or discipline the new local leaders. Such was the case in Salisbury. PFFPNC and IAFF legal counsel are working on correcting that situation. North Carolina does have a number of locals, though, such as Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, High Point and Greensboro, where their effective and capable use of professionalism and political and community involvement has enabled them to achieve some notable successes to varying extents. Donald Ragavage is one of several former local presidents returning to office has been in Wilmington, and he reports increasing success on staffing and station issues. Similar to the late Todd Martinez mentioned above, Donald has long made good use of IAFF resources and research.
South Carolina remains perhaps the most anti-union state, not just politically but socio-culturally too. The governor has almost dictatorially declared the state to be “anti-union.” It is virtually “union-hostile” by official edict. South Carolina Professional Fire Fighters President Mike Parrotta has long been on the front lines of the fight for organized labor in South Carolina. He and Secretary-Treasurer Leroy Marcotte have been active for years with the South Carolina AFL-CIO, with all of them maintaining a good labor presence in the state. They have used every possible alliance and relationship in their tough situation, including a very active and effective involvement with their Joint Council. One aspect of South Carolina labor law on which President Parrotta has unfortunately had to become something of an expert is South Carolina’s “at will” employment law, which was re-codified and strengthened in 2008. I have heard of other “at will” laws — often more accurately labeled “right to work” laws — but none as extreme as South Carolina’s. Some of the young SCPFF leadership has stepped up with Mike to track and remain involved in legislative efforts and a presence at the Capitol in Columbia. Once again, though, there are successes and lessons. In Florence, a very Southern and very typical big city in South Carolina, the political action and efforts — particularly those by Local President Joe Vanadia — have enabled that local to maintain a presence with their chief and with city officials. In Charleston, former Local 61 President Bill Haigler returned to office and now reports that relationships with the chief staff and the mayor are improving. Columbia also manages to maintain a respectable presence in the city and has often been effective on staffing and other issues, representing members as much as possible.
Professional Fire Fighters of Georgia (PFFGA) President Jim Daws has been aggressively organizing new locals. In particular, he has been working to bring former locals, several of which are quite large, back into the IAFF. Many of them were often lost, as within the two Carolinas, by the absence of dues check-off. Most of us know that when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN, he had been fighting for dues check-off for the unionized sanitation workers. It amazes me that after all these years, any southern state — especially Georgia — still relies on the anti-union tactic of denying dues-check off to those who want it. Georgia has a permissible collective bargaining law, and though Savannah has the only real contract, Jim and Atlanta Local 134 have long represented the majority of Atlanta fire fighters at City Hall, with Jim being a genuine veteran of one of the toughest pension battles in the district. The PFFGA Convention in April was well attended and unique. They took some time to get back in touch with their history, with Ed Bayley receiving a lifetime achievement award for his years of service and for maintaining and presenting a fine history of the PFFGA. This PFFGA Convention was particularly memorable, because Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) accepted an invitation to attend. Senator Jason Carter (D), grandson of former President Jimmy Carter and Deal’s gubernatorial opponent in the upcoming election, also attended, as well as Senator Curt Thopmson. Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that most members present were clearly able to discern the very real differences in each person’s political philosophies. At no time was this more evident than when a delegate asked Governor Deal about the prospects for full, mandatory collective bargaining. Governor Deal responded that the fact that Georgia is a Right to Work state makes that difficult. It was quite clear that the Governor did not have a real idea of the effect or lack thereof of Right to Work on collective bargaining rights. He was equally as uninspiring when responding to questions regarding presumptive heart and lung protections for fire fighters.
Last year, IAFF Legal Counsel Baldwin Robertson made a passing remark to me that it appeared that Florida and some of the other collective bargaining states were quickly “falling” to the level of labor relations of some of the non-collective bargaining states. The strongest deterrent to that, in addition to a large number of old, experienced locals, has been the Florida Professional Fire Fighters under the capable leadership of President Jim Tolley. Once again, the leadership of the Florida legislature mounted an attack on both the Florida Retirement System (FRS) and the municipal pensions, called “Chapter Plans.” It was clear that they were very serious in these attacks. Once again, though, the FPF maintained their relationship with a distinguished group of Republican senators led by Senator Jack Latvalla, who essentially protected much of the pension plans along with Democrats in the legislature. Nonetheless, as with the states mentioned above, much work will remain over the next years, to restore workers’ compensation and presumptive laws. The FPF Executive Board as well as leaders and members from locals throughout the state responded to Tallahassee whenever the “all hands” was called. Among those consistently on the front line was the “old lion” Gilbert Marsh, long-time Secretary-Treasurer of the FPF. “Wise men still seek his counsel.” Last year, Miami Local 587 President Robert Suarez resigned as FPF Vice President due to family necessities. Robert is a most capable and effective leader, and all who know him have considerable respect for him. Fortunately, Rocco Salvatori from Suncoast Local 2546 was elected to replace Robert. Rocco brings an agile, intellectual and energetic approach to the office, as well as a literate approach to how we do business. Even with all of the other wonderful locals in Florida, I cannot imagine successfully surviving the last three legislative sessions without the very effective FPF.
Regarding the attack on pensions, I must ask for a point of personal privilege. I would invite you to go to www.jacksonville.com, which is website for the Florida Times-Union. Go to their search site on the top right of the page and enter “police and fire pension,” or any words to that effect. Get in a comfortable chair, put on your good glasses, and get set for some long reading. If you want to know what ground zero in the pension fight looks like, as with Miami, and Hollywood, that is it. Local 122 President Randy Wyse and Mark Treglio have gone head-to-head with the city on the pension battle, including a lawsuit filed by Randy about one of six pending lawsuits. The most egregious are the personal attacks which you might note regarding John J. Keane. John is a former vice president and business agent for Local 122 and the District Vice President-Emeritus of the FPF. I have seen only a few other times when the media have gone after one man in such a personal way. As they often have, Jacksonville’s fire fighters anxiously await the coming elections with a rapidly expanding PAC fund and a capable sign shop.
In closing, I again salute 12th District Vice Presidents-Emeritus Charlie Hall and Dominick Barbera, and thank them for their years of advice, knowledge and experience which they shared. Thanks as well to DFSRs Walt Dix and Manly Bolin for their consistently fine, capable work and for their friendship. Thanks to PEP instructors Will Newton, Gary Rainey, John Klinefelter and David Coker. While you serve under the direction of the General President and senior IAFF staff, you represent our district well.
As many of you know, PEP Instructor and Service Representative Mark Treglio has moved up to IAFF headquarters as the Director of Strategic Communications and Media. Mark was exceptional as the Vice President and Media and Public Relations Director of Local 122, and a similar position with the FPF. He is already demonstrating those abilities at a level more commensurate with his talents. We are proud of our friend, but we miss him at home.
On behalf of the entire 12th District, we extend our appreciation to General President Harold Schaitberger and General Secretary-Treasurer Tom Miller, and to their staffs for their unfailing support and assistance. As I said two years ago, they have been successfully leading us through the greatest challenges since the Great Depression and World War II. We have been doing our work in historic times, and they have been up to the task.
Thank you all for the privilege of representing the IAFF 12th District and serving in your good name.