PAC Report: Jan/Feb 2019

PAC Report Jan/Feb, 2019

Brothers and Sisters,

Brothers Pethick, Glorioso and I had the honor of representing Local 106, along with hundreds of other Union brothers and sisters from around the state, in Olympia on January 28-30.  We were there to speak with our elected officials about ways to improve firefighter working conditions. 

Fortunately, we were able to meet with newly elected Representatives Lekanoff from the 40th and Shewmake from the 42nd, as well as Representative VanWerven from the 42nd.  Senator Ericksen declined to make time to meet us.  Senator Ranker had just stepped down from his position due to an investigation into his behavior in regards to charges of sexual misconduct.  Representative Morris was unavailable and said he would meet us in Bellingham in the near future.

We hit 3 areas with our legislators:  PTSD Occupational Injury Privacy Protections, LEOFF 2 Benefit Enhancement Fund, and Additions to our Presumptive Disease Coverage.  I am distributing Issues packets to all stations so you can see what we use as a basis for out discussions. Below are  summaries for you: 

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                                                                             Privacy Protections for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Claims

BACKGROUND

In 2018, RCW 51.08.142 was amended so that mental conditions or mental disabilities directly related to repeated exposure to traumatic events can be considered occupational diseases for firefighters and law enforcement officers.  (Thank you Luanne for voting positively on this law

HOWEVER:  Labor & Industries (L&I) has a responsibility to share medical records with employers when claims are filed and does not differentiate between physical or mental injuries or illnesses.

WSCFF POSITION

The WSCFF supports workers’ compensation processes for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that do not interfere with law enforcement, firefighters and paramedics seeking mental health treatment.  Nor should the specter of private counseling and/or treatment notes being shared with the employer or the public.  This IS a barrier to recovery or the return to work

EXPLANATION

L&I considers mental health claims in the same manner as a back, hand or knee (physical) injury. The dispersal of medical records to employers for a physical injury workers compensation claim has been standard practice and has had no negative impact on the employees treatment plan or return to work. Whereas, it is common belief in the mental health care field that dissemination of mental health records is a barrier to care seeking and may be an impediment to ongoing treatment and recovery.

The passage of SB 6214 in 2018 to resolve antiquated L&I standards was an incredibly important improvement to the wellness and readiness of this State’s public safety providers, but the unintended consequence of losing privacy must be remedied in 2019.  We will work to do this administratively through L&I.  If not there, then we will come up with a Legislative solution.

Our Lobbying efforts:  All 3 Representatives understood the need to tighten up this language and were all on board.  Specific action will follow based on discussions with L&I.

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Presumptive Disease Coverage

BACKGROUND

Studies have detailed that firefighters experience much higher rates of occupational diseases (including cancers, respiratory and cardiac diseases) than the general public. 

In recognition of this occupational hazard, the WA legislature granted fire fighters a rebuttable presumption in 1987 and has since expanded covered conditions based on new evidence, that these occupational diseases are on-the-job injuries.  There is now a list covered diseases.    

Women fire fighters, specifically, are an underrepresented population and have lagged in receiving appropriate presumptive disease coverage.

WSCFF POSITION

The WSCFF supports expanding the covered cancers in RCW 51.32.185 due to significantly higher rates of occurrence.  AND The risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age for women firefighters to 2.66 times for those between the ages 50 and 54  and 1.46 times greater risk of dying.

The WSCFF therefore believes the following diseases should be covered under RCW 51.32.185

Mesothelioma: 2.29 times greater risk of contracting and 2.00 times greater risk of dying

Stomach cancer: 1.58 times greater risk of contracting and 1.1 times greater risk of dying 

Non-melanoma skin cancer: 1.52 times greater risk of contracting

Cervical Cancer: 5.24 times greater risk of contracting

Breast Cancer (female firefighters: 1.45 times greater risk of contracting and 1.46 times greater risk of dying.

 

Our Lobbying:  L106 was disappointed to not see Esophogeal Cancer included as we had let the WSCFF Leg. team know this was a big ask by our members, especially  in light of Brother Carlberg's passing.  That said, with presumptive stroke and MRSA stripped from last year's bill, we feel the chances of passage of the current bill are better:  There is less of a financial stake for the state if only the above are covered under this year's bill.  As always, we will continue to push for what is right on this matter and will not stop until we are satisfied with proper coverage.

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                                                                          Funding the LEOFF 2 Benefit Enhancement Account

BACKGROUND

FFs and Law Enforcement are sole customers of LEOFF Plan 2:  We workers pay for half of the contributions, the rest split between the State and our employers (20%/30%).  Plan 2 members may retire at age 53 with no actuarial reduction in pension benefits.  Considering most FF’s are hired around age 30.  With shorter and highly  physically demanding careers, the avg.   FF or Cop is unable to obtain a 60% salary replacement level, seen as minimally adequate by retirement planners.

In addition, healthcare coverage is not a retirement benefit.  AND FFs  are not in Social Security.

Therefore in  2008,  WA Legislators recognized the shortcomings of the LEOFF 2 Pension Plan and passed ESSB 6573 by strong margins in recognition of the LEOFF Plan 2 inadequacies and Local Government public safety needs. They decided to create a fund to save for necessary improvements. Payments ARE mandatory (see conditions under ESSB 6573 [2008 c 99 § 4 (4)]

POSITION

The WSCFF requests that the 2019 – 21 budget include the LEOFF Plan 2 Benefit Enhancement Account payment in September 2019 as required by ESSB 6573. 

The 2017-2019 budget as enacted did not contain an appropriation of the required deposit into the LEOFF Plan 2 Benefit Enhancement Account. The WSCFF requests that the full value of that payment (as if it had been timely) be made by the 2019 Legislature.

Movement:  Governor Jay Inslee met with all of us and discussed his belief in this fund.  He specifically stated that his budget includes $50 million for this purpose.  The budgets fromt the Senate and House must meet these same numbers.  Representative Shewmake is new to the legislature and suggested that she agreed in principle to the payment and needed to do the reasearch.  

 

Below is the original bill, passed in 2008

State of Washington 60th Legislature 2008 Regular Session

ESSB 6573


By Senate Ways & Means (originally sponsored by Senators Kilmer, Brandland, Kauffman, Delvin, Benton, Roach, McAuliffe, and Rasmussen; by request of LEOFF Plan 2 Retirement Board)

AN ACT Relating to providing additional revenues for public safety, including law enforcement officers and firefighters plan 2 pension plan benefits; adding new sections to chapter 41.26 RCW; and creating a new section.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 1   The legislature finds that local governments need additional revenues to provide public safety resources in order to protect the citizens of Washington from fire and crime. The legislature finds that the current benefit formula and contributions for the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 are inadequate to modify that formula in recognition of the shorter working careers for firefighters and police officers. The legislature recognizes that although some officers and firefighters are able to work comfortably beyond twenty-five years, the combat nature of fire suppression and law enforcement generally require earlier retirement ages. In recognition of the physical demands of the professions and the inherent risks faced by law enforcement officers and firefighters, eligibility for retirement in the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 system has been set at age fifty-three. However, the benefit formula is designed for careers of thirty-five to forty years, making retirement at age fifty-three an unrealistic option for many.
     Therefore, the legislature declares that it is the purpose of this act to provide local government public safety employers and the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 pension plan with additional shared revenues when state general fund revenues increase by at least three percent over the prior year's collections.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 2   A new section is added to chapter 41.26 RCW to read as follows:
     The local public safety enhancement account is created in the state treasury. Moneys in the account may be spent only after appropriation. All receipts from section 4 of this act must be deposited into the account. Expenditures from the account may be used as follows:
     (1) Following appropriation, fifty percent of the money in the account shall be transferred to the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' retirement system benefits improvement account established in section 3 of this act.
     (2) Following appropriation, the balance shall be distributed by the state treasurer to all jurisdictions with law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 members on a proportionate share basis based on the number of plan 2 members each jurisdiction has on June 1st of the prior year divided by the total number of plan 2 members in the system. The department of retirement systems shall provide the distribution allocation to the state treasurer. Distributions by the state treasurer shall be made annually beginning on January 1, 2011. Jurisdictions that contract with other eligible jurisdictions for law enforcement services or fire protection services must agree on the distribution of funds between the contracting parties and must inform the department of retirement systems as to how the distribution is to be made. Distributions will continue to be made under the terms of the agreement until the department of retirement systems is notified by the eligible jurisdiction of any agreement revisions. If there is no agreement within six months of the distribution date, the moneys lapse to the state treasury. Moneys distributed from the balance of the public safety enhancement account may be used for the following purposes: (a) Criminal justice, including those where an ancillary benefit to the civil justice occurs, and includes domestic violence programs; (b) information and assistance to parents and families dealing with at-risk or runaway youth; or (c) public safety.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 3   A new section is added to chapter 41.26 RCW to read as follows:
     (1) The local law enforcement officers' and firefighters' retirement system benefits improvement account (benefits account) is created within the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' retirement system plan 2 fund. All receipts from section 2(1) of this act must be deposited into the account.
     (2) The funds in the benefits account shall not be included by the state actuary in the calculation of the market value of assets of the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' retirement system plan 2 fund until the board directs the state actuary in writing to do so for purposes of financing benefits adopted by the board pursuant to and consistent with RCW 41.26.720. The board, in consultation with the state investment board, shall provide the state actuary, in writing, the market value of the amount directed from the benefits account for inclusion in the calculation of the market value of assets of the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' retirement system plan 2 fund. The market value of the amount directed from the benefits account shall be determined as of the date of the direction from the board to include this amount for purposes of financing benefits adopted by the board pursuant to and consistent with RCW 41.26.720.
     (3) The law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 retirement board shall administer the fund in an actuarially sound manner.
     (4) The state investment board has the full power to invest, reinvest, manage, contract, sell, or exchange investment money in the benefits account. The state investment board is authorized to adopt investment policies for the money in the benefits account. All investment and operating costs associated with the investment of money within the benefits account shall be paid pursuant to RCW 43.33A.160 and 43.84.160. With the exception of these expenses, the earnings from the investment of the money shall be retained by the benefits account.
     (5) All investments made by the state investment board shall be made with the exercise of that degree of judgment and care pursuant to RCW 43.33A.140 and the investment policy established by the state investment board.
     (6) When appropriate for investment purposes, the state investment board may commingle money in the fund with other funds.
     (7) The authority to establish all policies relating to the benefits account, other than the investment policies set forth in this section, resides with the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 retirement board. Other than investments by and expenses of the state investment board, disbursements from this fund may be made only on the authorization of the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 retirement board for purposes of funding the member, employer, and state cost of financing benefits adopted by the board pursuant to and consistent with RCW 41.26.720.
     (8) The state investment board shall routinely consult with and communicate with the law enforcement officers' and firefighters' plan 2 retirement board on the investment policy, earnings of the trust, and related needs of the benefits account.

NEW SECTION.  Sec. 4   A new section is added to chapter 41.26 RCW to read as follows:
     (1) By September 30, 2011, if the prior fiscal biennium's general state revenues exceed the previous fiscal biennium's revenues by more than three percent, subject to appropriation by the legislature, the state treasurer shall transfer five million dollars to the local public safety enhancement account.
     (2) By September 30, 2013, if the prior fiscal biennium's general state revenues exceed the previous fiscal biennium's revenues by more than three percent, subject to appropriation by the legislature, the state treasurer shall transfer ten million dollars to the local public safety enhancement account.
     (3) By September 30, 2015, if the prior fiscal biennium's general state revenues exceed the previous fiscal biennium's revenues by more than three percent, subject to appropriation by the legislature, the state treasurer shall transfer twenty million dollars to the local public safety enhancement account.
     (4) By September 30, 2017, and by September 30 of each odd-numbered year thereafter, if the prior fiscal biennium's general state revenues exceed the previous fiscal biennium's revenues by more than three percent, subject to appropriation by the legislature, the state treasurer shall transfer the lesser of one-third of the increase, or fifty million dollars, to the local public safety enhancement account.

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With Senator Ranker being forced out, the Local has chosen to influence who will replace him.  Kris Lytton, who was exceptionally strong in her support of Labor and Firefighters during her 8 year tenure has thrown her name in the hat and we are thrilled.  Here is the note we sent to her campaign that she could use to nudge the elected officials who will choose who will take the 40th District Senate Seat:

 

January 23, 2019

Kris,

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 106, Bellingham/Whatcom County Firefighters, is proud to back your nomination to fill the currently vacant Washington State 40th District Senate position.  

Since your arrival in Olympia in 2010, you have been a steadfast champion of working folks in the 40th District and those well-outside of Skagit, San Juan and Whatcom Counties.  Your 99% voting record with the Washington State Central Labor Council exemplifies your understanding of the challenges which laborers face in this ever-evolving economy.  One of your more recent bills was HB 1356 which requires employers to pay into a sick leave bank for full-time employees.  Now, ill workers can care for themselves or their ailing family members with legal protections.

In regards to Fire Fighters and Law Enforcement, you have voted 100% positively on bills which afford emergency workers sensible health protections.  For example, in our ‘Presumptive Coverage’ law, if one in our ranks develops a cancer which is disproportionately high amongst our population, the disease is to be treated as a workplace injury.   Beyond this, you have consistently voted for RCWs which allow local governments to adequately fund their Fire and Emergency Medical services.

Somehow you’ve managed to do the above while keeping the environment high on your list of concerns.  You care for the amazing natural wonders which surround us in the San Juan Islands, Skagit Valley and North Cascades.

Thank you, Kris, for stepping back up to represent your neighbors.  We support you fully.

Colin Lowin, PAC Chair

IAFF Local 106

Bellingham/Whatcom County Professional Fire Fighters

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Local Political Scene:

The November general elections are 10 months away, but there is alredy a scrappy scene of locals vying for positions.  There are many open positions coming up on the COB council, Lynden City Council, North Whatcom Commisioners, South Whatcom Commisioners and even the Port of Bellingham Commisioners.  

The biggest race the Local is facing is the Bellingham Mayoral race.  As we have seen from our past 8 years, a mayor who is not supportive of her Fire Fighters can hurt.  Mayor Linville's insistance on downgrading the need for staffing and equiping properly her emergency staff is now coming full-circle.  Both her Police and Fire Departments are understaffed and underequipped.  There is mandatory overtime which is begetting more mandatory overtime, sickness begetting sickness.  Underfunded budgets and generally pissed-off employees.

We have met once with Garret O'Brien and are meeting with April Barker soon.  We will not falter on only supporting a candidate who had a strong gameplan for the future of Emergency Services for our citizens in the future.  The local needs your support in these endeavors.  I will be asking you to help me knock on doors and shake the trees for support.

On the flipside, we have seen the pluses of those who 'get it'.  Terry Bornneman single-handedly doubled the FTE increase for the coming biennium and has suggested he will work with us on the Chief hiring committee to see that we have a new chief that is willing to work cooperatively with Labor.

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Vice-President Pethick and I will represent you in Washington D.C. next month, pushing bills which will improve working conditions for ALL union firefighters in this Nation.  To say it is a challenging time in the Capital is an understatement.  On some level, we are working to see that the Senate and President don't roll back the gains we have made over the past decade.

As always, please contact me with questions and concerns:  colinlowin@yahoo.com

In Solidarity,

Colin Lowin, PAC Chair

Posted in Political Action, Public News on Feb 07, 2019