The Union is All of Us

Among the over 1300 fallen firefighters immortalized on the polished stone of the California Firefighters Memorial are four names that tell a story.

  • In 1980, Los Angeles County firefighters Richard Rowland and Porter Griggers both died of a rare form of cancer six years after being exposed to a highly toxic chemical soil fumigant.
  • In 1998, San Mateo City firefighter Dan Gadwah died of a rare incurable heart cancer directly tied to his exposure to vinyl chloride from vehicle and structure fires.
  • In 2006, Los Angeles County firefighter Dallas Jones died of cancer that may well have had its roots in a firefight at a tire factory decades earlier.

Though their stories of job-related cancer aren’t unique, these four men made a difference because somebody told their stories: their union.  

  • Their local unions battled management to recognize – and compensate – their families.
  • California Professional Firefighters stood up for them to ensure recognition of job-related cancer through groundbreaking firefighter presumption laws that, in some cases, bear their names.
  • And all their union brothers and sisters stood together in solidarity and strength to make sure their stories were remembered.

Their sacrifice lives on in a better deal for all firefighters. Because their unions took a stand.

The ties between firefighters and the labor movement are deep and long. Even with this history, for most modern firefighters, joining an IAFF local is their first experience as part of a union. Many wonder what the union is and what it does for them. The answer is pretty simple: The union is there to protect firefighters while firefighters protect public safety.

  • A seat at the table: Every aspect of your salary, benefits and working conditions is governed by the contract negotiated by the local union. Without a union, firefighters are at the mercy of the whims of their employers. With a union, they have a voice.
  • A champion for workplace safety: Firefighting is dangerous work, but it’s a lot more dangerous without the right gear. Every significant step forward for job safety – PPE standards, 2-in, 2-out, Cal-OSHA, NFPA 1710 – came not because employers loved firefighters, but because the local and state unions fought to get them.
  • An advocate when times get tough: As public safety professionals, firefighters’ are under close scrutiny, and discipline can be unfair and arbitrary. The local union contract secures firefighters’ basic workplace rights. The Firefighters Bill of Rights guarantees you representation and protects your rights against unfair discipline.
  • An outlet to get your voice heard: For workers who don’t have a union, filing a grievance is often a one-way ticket out the door. Through the union, firefighters can get their issues heard by management (P.S. it also gives them a way to make their union better, too.)
  • A strong voice with the powers that be: Everything about a firefighter’s job is governed by decisions made by elected officials. Through political action at the state and local level, firefighters get to help choose their boss. And when it comes time to follow through, it’s the union that holds them accountable on your behalf.

These are just some of the things that your union does for you. Every day. Usually without fanfare. It works best when it works like it is on the front lines -- firefighters standing together, working as one to achieve the best result for each other and the community.

The union is all of us.

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