Andrew K. Pantelis
4th District Vice President
Pursuant to Article VI, Section 7 of the Constitution and By-Laws of the International Association of Fire Fighters, I respectfully submit the following report of my activities as Vice President of the 4th District to General President Harold A. Schaitberger, General Secretary-Treasurer Edward A. Kelly, the IAFF Executive Board and all officers and delegates in attendance at the 55th Convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters assembled virtually on January 25-29, 2021.
During this reporting period, I was appointed by the General President to serve on the following IAFF committees: Administrative Committee of the IAFF Officers Retirement Plan (secretary); organizing and field services (vice-chair); budget and finance; ad hoc resolutions; communications and media; education and training; government, political, and public affairs; information systems; and technical assistance. It is a privilege to serve as a member of the IAFF Financial Corporation’s Board of Directors, our tremendously successful subsidiary that provides supplemental services and benefits to our members.
Since our centennial convention in 2018, I have had the opportunity and honor to travel throughout Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., working in support of the 198 locals and four state organizations that make up the 4th District. I have attended state conventions, conferences, Executive Board and committee meetings, and have carried out all other assignments delegated to me by the General President.
We are no doubt in unchartered territory as a union, as professional fire fighters and EMS workers, and as a nation. Not since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic has there been a national emergency with such a globally devastating impact as COVID-19. As our members on the front line are currently battling this pandemic, your IAFF officers and staff are working at the local, state, federal, and provincial levels to make sure that you have the resources you need to stay safe on the job and return home safely to your family.
We are also at a critical juncture that is certain to be a turning point in the history of our nation. It is imperative that we recognize the substantial mental and emotional impact that systemic racism has had on many of our members. As a union, we understand that wearing a uniform does not make our members immune to this issue. Additionally, many of our members, or their families and friends, have been involved in or directly affected by the ongoing protests and unrest — as peaceful protesters, law enforcement officers or first responders. These events have created a trying and stressful climate for our members and their loved ones, which has led to each of us being affected in deeply personal ways.
As first responders, we have the unfailing duty to respond to and assist those in need, without regard to their color, ethnicity or ways in which they are different from us, and we must work just as hard to embrace those ideals within our own workplaces and personal lives. It is imperative that we find the courage and moral fiber to support what is objectively right, speak against those actions that are objectively wrong, and work to end any systemic policies and barriers that create unjust inequities for our members. This is a union issue because it is a workplace issue. It is a community issue, and unions are the community. As such, we must and will continue to fight to address issues of racial and economic inequality.
Our union has also experienced several internal challenges since our last convention. Earlier this year, the District Vice Presidents of the IAFF were made aware of several serious allegations, questions and concerns involving our finances, pension plans and internal business practices. In accordance with our internal policies, the senior District Vice President of the IAFF appointed an Ethical Practices Committee (EPC) composed of five independent District Vice Presidents, of which I was appointed as the chairman.
The EPC’s responsibilities have been to establish reasonable cause for the allegations, review documents, conduct interviews, investigate, and issue a written report of findings and recommendations to the Board. To date, the EPC has held dozens of formal meetings, completed hundreds of hours of work and reviewed thousands of pages of documents. As Chairman of this committee, I have great faith in the work that the EPC members, and our independent investigative firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, have been doing to ensure that every single allegation is fully investigated.
I know that these are challenging times for our organization and that you, our affiliate leaders, are receiving questions and skepticism from many of our members. We take these allegations seriously and are diligently working through these matters, all while we continue our work to protect our members and provide service to our local affiliates. However, I am confident that our union will weather this storm, we will make change where it is needed, we will grow and we will continue to fight for our members.
While we may be facing our share of internal and external challenges, our members continue to rise up and take advantage of the opportunities we have been provided. A little more than two years ago, the landmark Supreme Court decision of Janus v. AFSCME led a crippling blow to organized labor and was certain to test our resolve. However, our affiliate leaders have worked harder than ever to show the value of our IAFF and the benefits that we provide to our members. Our members should rest assured that no matter what the issue is, your leadership from the local to the IAFF will continue to identify solutions and curb detrimental consequences. Even while operating in an anti-labor environment, our ranks continue to swell — now nearly 325,000 members strong. The IAFF truly is a “Union on the Rise!”
Our rise is even more evident when you look at our tremendously successful political programs. In February 2019, I was honored to second the Executive Board motion for our union to endorse Joe Biden for President of the United States. Then in April 2019, I was so proud to join our Pennsylvania State Association leadership and the members of Pittsburgh Local 1 at Joe’s presidential campaign kick-off at the Pittsburgh Teamsters facility, right in the heart of the 4th District.
When making a decision about who is the best candidate for the IAFF to support, we look through a very narrow lens — that candidate’s support of fire fighter issues. While some of the most pressing social issues facing our country today, such as immigration reform, second amendment rights and the environment, are extremely important to me and many of you personally, it is not the responsibility of our union to weigh in on them.
When we take the Officer’s Oath, we pledge to uphold the Constitution and By-Laws of the International Association of Fire Fighters. In the preamble of that document, our objectives are spelled out for us. They include securing just compensation for our members, promoting a safe and healthy working environment for fire fighters and providing sick and death benefit funds for our members who are injured or killed in the line of duty. The IAFF focuses solely on issues important to fire fighters. On those issues, Joe Biden is clearly in our corner. That is why I was proud to support his campaign and why I am even prouder that at the time of this Convention, he will be the next President of the United States and that Kamala Harris, another champion of fire fighter issues, will be the next Vice President of the United States.
Since our last Convention, we have also continued to place a strong emphasis on expanding the educational resources available to our members. Our district’s partnership education program (PEP) event has been a tremendous success, providing quality affordable educational programs to hundreds of affiliate leaders each year. Members have received training in communications, legal services, negotiations and non-collective bargaining environment strategies. The district PEPs have been followed by a district caucus where attendees received information about trending legislation, cancer in the fire service and an overview about the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery. Our next district PEP is scheduled for April 2021 and will include nearly 20 information sessions and course modules including the IAFF Peer Support Trainer Program.
During the past two years, we had the pleasure of welcoming several new locals into the 4th District. The addition of Carroll County (MD) Local 5184, Powhatan County (VA) Local 5188, Waynesboro (PA) Local 5211, Salem (WV) Local 5226, Upper Merion Township (PA) Local 5233, King William County (VA) Local 5235, Marshall County (WV) Local 5252, Garrett County (MD) Local 5255, North Strabane (PA) Local 5292, Talbot County (MD) Local 5302, and Clarke County (VA) Local 5304 helped our district continue to grow.
Our leadership team continues to evaluate and improve upon our organizing efforts across the district. Our focus is geared toward chartering prospective affiliates that have growth potential and that we can effectively service to ensure their success.
The following is a synopsis of key issues that occurred within our district:
Delaware: The IAFF and the district leadership team continue to provide extensive support to Wilmington Local 1590. The local continues to battle threats of staffing reductions, rotating company closures (brownouts) schedule adjustments and FLSA complaints. Elsewhere in the state, our membership is growing as a result of organized efforts in New Castle County and Sussex County.
Maryland: The Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland (PFFMD) achieved a number of victories during the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions. In addition to adding three new cancers to the list of presumptive illnesses that are covered under the workers’ compensation statute, Maryland enacted the “Fire Fighter Jesse McCullough Cancer Protection Act,” providing additional worker protections to fire fighters who have served in multiple jurisdictions. The PFFMD also successfully lobbied and passed legislation banning a number of carcinogenic flame retardants and the use of PFAS foam in fire training programs. Finally, the PFFMD has secured state funding for IAFF training programs and continues to enjoy expansion of collective bargaining laws for our affiliates. The leadership team continues to foster outstanding bipartisan relationships and has been able to accomplish these victories with a Republican Governor and Democratic-controlled General Assembly, illustrating how our members have been effective at lobbying on both sides of the political aisle.
Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association (PPFFA), with support from the entire labor community, continues to defeat “paycheck protection” legislation that is aimed at prohibiting dues deductions or political contributions through payroll deductions by union members in Pennsylvania. In addition, the PPFFA and our Pennsylvania affiliates were successful in reauthorizing the State Fire Grant and adding airport fire fighters as beneficiaries of the Act. This program mirrors the FEMA Assistance to Fire Grant funding and will help to provide much needed apparatus and equipment to our Pennsylvania affiliates.
Virginia: In 2020, the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters (VPFF) had a tremendous legislative session with the significant advancements for public sector collective bargaining. In a victory for public service workers in Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill authorizing collective bargaining for public school teachers, fire fighters, police officers and most other local government employees across the commonwealth. Above all else, this bill marks a first step to roll back Virginia’s archaic collective bargaining prohibitions for public employees. In addition, the VPFF successfully lobbied to add three new cancers to the list of presumptive illnesses that are covered under the workers’ compensation statute and strengthened worker benefits and protections for the same. Finally, our members continue to realize the benefits achieved following the FLSA victory in Fairfax County (VA) Local 2068. The U.S. Court of Appeals issued a finding that the captains are covered under the overtime provisions of the FLSA. Specifically, the court examined the duties and responsibilities of captains and determined that they were not “executive” or “administrative” employees exempt from the FLSA overtime pay protections. The court concluded that the captains are first responders who are responsible for firefighting and rescue services like their crew. Following that ruling, several additional affiliates took legal action resulting in additional awards and settlements.
Washington, D.C.: IAFF Local 36 continues to fight on behalf of its members for improved wages, benefits and safety. Local 36 leadership has spoken out against challenges with communications (dispatch), aging apparatus and facilities, and unrestricted growth in the southeastern area of the city.
West Virginia: The Professional Fire Fighters of West Virginia (PFFWV) and local affiliates continue to fight and win holiday compensation benefits for multiple affiliates across the state. This fight is one of many that has been taken on by the PFFWV leadership over the years. That is just one of many reasons why it was my privilege to nominate PFFWV President Brian Jones for the 2020 IAFF Local Leadership Award.
I want to thank the General President, General Secretary-Treasurer, their outstanding staff, and all of the IAFF departments for their service and assistance to our members. I also want to extend my personal appreciation to District Field Service Representatives John Gardell and Paul Hebert, our IAFF Service Representatives, and State Association Presidents Robert Bragg, Jeffrey Buddle, Brian Jones and J.T. Pennington for all they do on behalf of members in the 4th District.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not personally thank the entire affiliate leadership in the 4th District who do the work, day in and day out, in the trenches and on the front lines to deliver critical services to our members when they need support from their union the most. We depend on a strong team to accomplish our goals and achieve results. We cannot do this without each of you. It is the greatest honor of my life to represent and serve you and our members.
To all delegates, alternates and guests at this 55th IAFF Convention, I hope you have an outstanding and productive week as we work for the betterment of the fire service, organized labor, our members and their families.