Happy New Year! I wish you much joy, peace, and happiness in 2017! A lot has happened since my last update and there is much to catch you up on.
New IAFF Local and MPFF Affiliate
On November 21st, IAFF 5th District VP Tom Thornberg presented Hastings Firefighters Local 5113 with their IAFF Charter. At that time Hastings became the MPFF’s 41st affiliate. Welcome aboard Hastings!
The saying goes that elections have consequences and that old adage may very well be proven with the new occupant of the White House. If the political campaign is any guide, I think we can expect the unexpected. I think we all are still suffering from “election hangover” but I do want to mention one major outcome of the presidential election and that is the impact it will have on the US Supreme Court.
Just a year ago organized labor dodged a huge bullet in the case of Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association. The plaintiff in the case had sued the CTA claiming that the requirement to pay union “fair share fees” violated their constitutional rights. The case had failed in the lower courts and been appealed to the the US Supreme Court with the help of anti-union special interests. It seemed very likely that that the Court would rule narrowly in favor of Friedrichs which could have meant that so-called “Right-To-Work” would have been that law of the land.
Before the Court could rule however, fate intervened and Justice Antonin Scalia, a probable vote in favor of Friedrichs passed away. The now eight member Supreme Court split the vote 4-4 which dealt a serious blow to the anti-union effort.
Due to the refusal of the GOP-lead US Senate failure to fulfill their Constitutional duty and give President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland an up or down confirmation vote, Scalia’s seat has sat empty for almost a year. Now the incoming president has vowed to appoint a new Supreme Court justice in the mold of Scalia which means that Friedrichs, or a similar case, will probably make its way back to a “friendlier” Supreme Court and will probably win which will have serious consequences.
Imagine having union “members” who do not pay dues but that you are legally bound to represent. “Free riders” within a union hamper the organizations effectiveness, because fewer members paying dues means less funds available to hire attorneys to negotiate contracts or appeal adverse employer actions, or hire lobbyists to fight legislation harmful to your profession or pension. Also, because these people are still “quasi-members” they still enjoy all the benefits of the union’s representation. Doesn’t seem fair does it? Well, its not!
Turning history on its ear the Republicans expanded their majority in the Minnesota House and won back control of the Senate with a razor-thin 34-33 edge in that chamber. The conditions are similar to 2011 when the GOP-lead legislature and DFL Governor Dayton butted heads which resulted in a state government shutdown that lasted weeks. The GOP also floated a
constitutional amendment that would have put “Right-To-Work” in the Minnesota Constitution via a ballot measure. That effort was thwarted thanks to a bi-partisan effort and although it did pass through one Senate committee the plan didn’t go any further.
Why do I bring this up? Because I believe that the past is prologue and many of the same players in the previously mentioned effort are still around. We, as Labor, must be vigilant especially given the attacks to collective bargaining rights and retirement plans going on in nearby states such as Iowa where the governor and newly GOP-controlled legislature have called for a “study” of that state’s public-pension system. Click here for more info. The Nebraska legislature is attacking pensions in that state and Michigan has floated a plan to reduce retiree healthcare benefits. I’m not saying its going to happen here but we all better buckle our chin straps and be ready to hit somebody if necessary.
Proposed Pension Changes
In my last update I mentioned that the PERA Police & Fire Board was looking at possibly making changes to shore up the health of our retirement plan. The impetus was a newly completed actuarial study which highlighted longer life expectancy among retirees and lower than expected investment returns which had a negative impact on the plan’s funding ratio. As we did in 2012 the MPFF, along with other plan stakeholders met this past November to come up with solutions that would put the long-term health of the plan back in positive territory. The PERA Board then voted to accept those changes and make recommendation to the Legislature.
The proposed changes are as follows:
Annual return assumption rate moves to 7.5%.
Retiree COLA capped at 1% and the 2.5% COLA trigger at 90% plan funding removed.
Employee contribution increase of 1% phased in over two years.
Employer contribution increase of 1.5% phased in over 2 years.
State of Minnesota additional annual contribution of $9 million.
The proposed changes are similar to those made by the Legislature in 2013 and spreads the sacrifice among retirees, enrollees, employers, and the State. This plan must be approved by the Legislature.
Given the results of this last election, the Legislative study of State-administered retirement plans couldn’t have come at a worse time as it puts our pension squarely in the cross-hairs of those who would like to do away with public sector pensions. The MPFF has already started lobbying hard to head off any adverse impacts. Thanks to your PAC Fund contributions, on January 2nd, the MPFF along with St Paul Local 21 and Mpls Local 82, as well as members of the State Patrol, Mpls Police Federation, and reps from the various teacher pensions, co-hosted two fundraisers for over 50 GOP legislators. Here, we spent the better part of 3 hours explaining to them the importance and merits of our pension. We were able to get some mild reassurance from the legislators but nothing can be taken for granted. It’s incumbent upon all of us who have skin in this game to contact our legislators and tell them to support the PERA stakeholder plan for keeping our pension healthy. You can find your legislator at www.sos.state.mn
A Partial List of Other Legislative Items For the 2017 Session
PERA LODD Survivor Benefits
Last session the MPFF was successful in passing the MN Hometown Heroes Act which expanded in statute the definition of “killed in the line of duty” to include deaths from heart attack or stroke suffered within 24 hours of a call or training exercise. The second part of the legislation, which was vetoed by Governor Dayton as part of a Pension Omnibus Bill, included a provision to get rid of the two-tiered LODD survivor benefit system and give surviving families highest possible benefits. This provision had overwhelming bi-partisan support last session and I am confident we will get the fix passed in 2017.
The MPFF is working on a first in the nation PTSD Presumption bill. This bill would make PTSD a presumptive illness similar to cancer and is sponsored by Senator Dan Schoen from Cottage Grove. Dan is a veteran cop and paramedic who helped found Willmar Paramedics IAFF Local 3943. On December 20th we held a roundtable at the MN Senate Building where first responders and family shared how service-related PTSD has impacted their lives. For a link to the report from KSTP Channel 5, click here .
The MPFF and our affiliates are working with several legislators on some possible bills to help combat occupational cancer among firefighters such as a MN firefighter Cancer Registry, strengthening existing presumption laws, and phasing out additional toxic flame retardants. It is still early in the process and these bills are taking shape so please stay tuned.
Fire Service Day At The Capitol on February 2nd
February 2nd is our annual lobby day at the MN Legislature. All are welcome and encouraged to participate. In fact your participation is vital to our efforts to protect our pension, our health and safety, and our bargaining rights. To register, go to www.mpff.org . Come check out the beautifully restored Capitol, hang out with your fellow first-responders, meet your legislators, and tell them why our issues are important to you. We will give you the talking points and you bring your passion.
MPFF Political Philosophy
I’d like to end by reminding you of the MPFF’s political philosophy, which is the same philosophy as the IAFF’s: We support those who support us regardless of party affiliation. This is the truth and key reason for our success. We support political candidates on both sides of the aisle and we give PAC money to both sides and the result is that we have friends and allies on both sides. Sure, we could be one of those unions that only supports one political party (you know who they are) and that can only make hay during those once-in-a-generation occurrences when one political party has total control at the Capitol. But why only have half of the doors at the capitol open to you when you could have all of them? While we have been down at the Capitol making friends and passing bills to benefit our members, other unions, who have become politicized, have been nowhere to be found or have been relegated to playing defense.
I believe it’s in your best interest to have a seat at the table and to speak our truth to power. We can do that without sacrificing our principles as trade unionists and still be an effective force for our members. So when if people in your membership attempt to lament our political efforts by saying we only support one party just remind them of this fact.
Until Next Time Be Safe Brothers And Sisters, Chris Parsons