1st District Vice President
This report is respectfully submitted in accordance with Article VI, Section 7 of the International Association of Fire Fighters Constitution and By-Laws. This report contains a summary of my activities as 1st District Vice President from September 2018 to November 2020.
On behalf of the entire 1st District, I would like to extend a heartfelt virtual welcome to all the delegates and alternates attending the 2021 IAFF Virtual Convention. It is an honor to continue to serve as the 1st District Vice President. For almost 103 years, we have been fighting for the betterment of our brothers and sisters throughout the USA and Canada. Every day, our fights get tougher, the challenges get more difficult, while our membership gets stronger. We continue to provide quality education and resources to our membership that is unmatched by any other union.
This convention report is dedicated to the memory of late PFANJ President Dominick Marino and all the members of the 1st District that we have lost since the last convention. President Marino passed away suddenly on April 14, 2020. He served for over 25 years as a firefighter in the North Bergen Fire Department and North Hudson Regional Fire Rescue, retiring from active service in 2011. He held multiple leadership positions in the fire fighter union locals in both departments. President Marino served for many years as 2nd Vice President and Treasurer of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, the chartered state association of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), before becoming President in 2008. President Marino leaves behind his wife Ellen, three children and two grandchildren.
Since the 2018 Convention, I have attended the state conventions, Executive Board Meetings and membership meetings in both New York and New Jersey. We held our second 1st District Partnership Education Program (PEP) in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in November 2019. There was a large turnout from affiliate leaders from both New Jersey and New York. The PEP allows both our small and large locals to get critical education and leadership skills right in our home district. The more education we provide, the higher the demand becomes. While the next PEP program may be limited to a virtual format, we hope once things get back to normal, we can deliver high-quality instruction once again right in the 1st District.
Politics continues to play an important role in our success and was certainly evident in both states in the 1st District. I have encouraged more members to get involved politically and to participate in the very successful IAFF FIREPAC. FIREPAC has been able to provide crucial support for our IAFF-endorsed candidates in both New York and New Jersey.
The IAFF provided various training programs throughout the district since the last convention: Peer Support Training, Social Media and Public Relations, HazMat, Affiliate Leadership courses and legal training, just to name a few. These training programs are important going forward since we continually have new affiliate leaders getting elected to lead their local. We must continue to provide these classes so that they can effectively do their job.
Unfortunately, much of the great things that have happened in the district have been overshadowed by the COVID global pandemic that continues to this day. The 1st District has been battling the pandemic on the frontlines since at least March of 2020. By April 10, New York had more COVID cases than any other country besides its own. New Jersey also had an extremely high number of cases. This caused major problems for our locals and our leadership. Oftentimes our members were forced to respond with extremely limited PPE. Too often, we were told to make do with what we had on hand. The locals relied heavily on the information and resources that were published by the IAFF on its website, social media, email communications and the numerous video conferences that took place to disseminate information to our local leadership and the members.
At the time of submitting this report, the number of cases continues to increase. Hopefully we are better prepared to deal with this next wave and will be able to get vaccinations out to the members and the public soon. There has been a direct impact on our members that have contracted the disease, including three active members that have succumbed to it. There has also been an indirect impact with the economic fallout that is hitting our locals. We have hiring freezes, threatened layoffs, station closures, brownouts and threats to break contracts and impose reductions on benefits and salary. Hopefully some relief will come soon with the economic turnaround and potentially another round of stimulus checks from the federal government.
The NYSPFFA continues to increase their activity with President Fresina and his executive board in place. There has been a lot of success legislatively for both the NYSPFFA and the NYC locals. The following pieces of legislation passed and became law since the last convention.
- Qualifications to Serve as a Fire Chief – The initial fire chief qualification bill (Chapter 406 of 2018) was signed on December 21, 2018, and took effect on January 20, 2019. The purpose of the bill was to create minimal, yet necessary training requirements for individuals seeking to become chiefs in combination departments with six or more paid fire fighters. This bill further clarifies the intent of the original legislation that the requirements apply to both volunteer and professional fire fighters looking to become chief.
- 20–Year Optional “Bubble Bill” – Fire fighters hired after January 2010 were placed into the Tier V pension plan. However, those fire fighters hired between July 1, 2009, and the effective date of Tier V (January 9, 2010) working under a current collective bargaining agreement were provided the opportunity to elect or remain in a non-contributory 20-year plan until the expiration of their respective contracts. This same protection was not afforded fire fighters working without a collective bargaining agreement. This bill law affords the same opportunities to such professional fire fighters as those working pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.
- New York City Fire Cancer Presumption – Previously, fire fighters in New York City were only eligible for enhanced retirement benefits under this presumption if cancer was diagnosed during the term of service but not after they retire. This law provides the benefit both during the term of service and five years into retirement.
As was previously mentioned in this report, we lost a tireless advocate and friend, PFANJ President Marino. His biggest win came in July of 2019 with the passing of the Thomas P. Canzanella 21st Century First Responders Protection Act for all fire fighters in New Jersey. President Marino and his executive board fought hard for this important legislation and Governor Murphy delivered on his promise to sign the bill. The IAFF was proud to work with the leadership of the PFANJ on this legislation and it is a great legacy for late PFANJ President Marino.
The new leader of the PFANJ, Steve McConlogue assumed the role of President and immediately went to work ensuring that PFANJ members continued to have a voice in Trenton. As this report was being submitted, the Marino “rookie” bill passed in the State Assembly and Senate. This bill, named in honor of late PFANJ President Dominick Marino, “enhances PFRS accidental death pension for surviving spouse by providing for minimum of $50,000 annually.” The bill will now move to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk to be signed into law.
In Atlantic City, Local 198 had been dealing with the wrath of the former Governor through his appointee. That appointee has been overseeing the finances of Atlantic City. He ordered cuts to compensation and was attempting to lay off members. Atlantic City Local 198 has negotiated a settlement with the state administrator in regard to the state’s takeover of Atlantic City’s finances. This will end our involvement with the Guardian Policy. While they did not get back everything they were looking for, they were able to negotiate back some benefits, raises and promotions. In addition, there was some agreement on the use of a SAFER grant. Local 198 President Varallo was able to get his members to approve the deal, despite some opposition.
The PFRS Pension takeover bill was signed into law with amendments that were lobbied for by the PFANJ and IAFF. The original bill was extremely flawed and opposed by the IAFF and PFANJ member locals. Despite the strong opposition of the PFANJ to the PFRS Pension takeover bill, both the Senate and Assembly passed the legislation. As we expected, Governor Christie issued a conditional veto that made a bad bill even worse. The changes that the outgoing Governor demanded were unacceptable to all the stakeholders and, as a result, the bill died. As expected, the bill was resurrected with the new administration. The PFANJ knew this bill would move quickly through the Senate and Assembly so they offered amendments based on comments from the IAFF Pension Department. We now have a better system in place because of the input from the PFANJ and IAFF.
In closing, I want to thank the entire IAFF staff for always being responsive to the membership of the 1st District. I ask the members to continue to stay strong and vigilant as we face our challenges head on and hopefully get passed the horrible COVID virus that has attacked our district and our nation. I hope that I will continue to serve the members of the 1st District as we move into 2021 and beyond. Stay safe, stay strong!