California First: CA Firefighters Point the Way to the Nation

California firefighters are well-trained, well-equipped and enjoy generally fair compensation and benefits. They also have workplace protections, job-safety protections and Workers’ Comp protections that are the envy of many other states.

As IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger put it in a recent address, “California truly is leading the way.”

This leadership didn’t just happen. It was the product of vigorous advocacy at the local level, and creative and dogged legislative and political advocacy through California Professional Firefighters.

If you ever find yourself asking “What’s the union done for me?”, consider these “California Firsts”:

  • 1939: Heart, lung and hernia presumption -- First in western U.S. and first for California public safety group)
  • 1948: Vested pension rights aka “The California Rule” -- First won through lawsuit filed by Long Beach Firefighters, still the most sweeping legal pension protection in U.S.
  • 1959: Right to organize -- First public employee class to win specific right to unionize
  • 1970: Local binding interest arbitration (Vallejo)First local entity to win right to take disputes to arbitration
  • 1978: Comprehensive PPE standards -- First statewide PPE standards in the nation
  • 1982: Firefighter cancer presumption -- First in the nation to provide presumptive Workers’ Comp protection for firefighters
  • 1982: California Firefighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee (Cal-JAC) -- First, and still the only, public employee apprenticeship program in the nation
  • 1984: Personal Exposure Reporting - First and still the largest documentation of firefighter exposures to cancer-causing chemicals
  • 1992: Pension Protection Act (Prop. 162)First voter-approved protection against state raids on retirement funds. Written and circulated by California Professional Firefighters and CPF affiliates
  • 1999: Optional 3% at 50 retirementFirst benefit of its kind in the nation
  • 2000: Statewide binding interest arbitrationFirst in California (overturned by CA Supreme Court)
  • 2002: California Firefighters MemorialFirst firefighter memorial to include a depiction of a fallen firefighter
  • 2003: Terrorism Consequence Management -- First terrorism response training specifically targeting firefighters. Funding won by CPF, training offered through Cal-JAC
  • 2004: CPAT Testing Centers -- First central testing location for firefighter candidates (through Cal-JAC). 
  • 2008: Firefighters Bill of RightsFirst comprehensive bill of rights protecting firefighters against unfair, arbitrary or excessive discipline
  • 2016: Behavioral Health Conference -- First joint labor-management gathering to address PTSD and other behavioral health issues in the fire service.

None of these victories was easy. None of them were given away. All of them were earned by a combination of hard-nosed advocacy and the strength and solidarity of California’s first responders.

Every day, local firefighter unions are fighting to protect these hard-won benefits and rights, sometimes against long odds, big money and bitter, hostile management and political leadership.

Success is only as big as the commitment and solidarity of our members.

Because the union is all of us.