Brothers and Sisters,
The 2012 Legislative Session approaches quickly. Last session provided a glimpse of what we may expect this coming session. As many of you remember, a bill (SB 1142) was printed that would have made collective bargaining illegal. By illegal, I mean that employers would not be allowed to bargain collectively with employees even if they wanted to. Although SB 1124 quietly died last session, it laid the groundwork to run the same legislation next session. The PFFI lobbying team is confident the sponsors of SB 1124 will try to run it again.
In response to this expectation we have been working diligently through the interim (the time between sessions). We developed a plan that would put us in the best possible position to fight this legislation this coming year. The plan involved an organizational component, a media component, and a political component. The organizational piece was all about getting the PFFI and our locals organized for the fight. This means identifying legislative and media liaisons within our organization, educating our members, and streamlining our communication process. The media piece was about strengthening and managing our brand as firefighters and as union members. We delivered training to all of the PFFI districts on how to work with the media and how to message to reinforce our brand. This training was fortified with follow up training at Fall Ed seminar including a fantastic presentation by John Kretzschmar on “framing” the union. The political piece was premised on building and strengthening strategic political relationships. Those relationships include legislators as well as local leaders.
I’m pleased to say that we’ve worked the plan fairly well to this point in time. The plan required a lot of leg work from the locals. Many of you may not have seen what has been happening because I put the burden on your local leaders. I asked them to work on getting your local organized for the fight, work pro-actively to get positive media coverage, and to meet with the legislators from your area. A good number of our locals have taken the task to heart and have done some great work. I think we’ve seen a noticeable uptick in positive local media coverage and, more importantly, we’ve created or strengthened a significant number of relationships with legislators. These relationships are what will matter most if this fight comes to fruition.
Another part of the plan that turned out very well was FireOps 101. We held it in Meridian in early October with four legislators, several local leaders, and a handful of media representatives. FireOps is one of the most valuable initiatives we do because it conveys our message like nothing else we can do. Those who attended have a new appreciation for what we do. This always helps with any issue we work on.
So you may be asking “what can I do?” Currently there is not a lot of heavy lifting we need from the members, but there is some work you can do. As part of the media training we asked two things of your local leaders. One was to inform you (your local’s membership) of the potential fight we are facing. The second was to educate you on how to communicate. For our media efforts to work we need everyone communicating the same message to all audiences. Whether you like it or not, each one of you is a public relations representative for our organization. The audience you reach is whomever you come in contact with that recognizes you as a firefighter or union member. It may seem insignificant to worry about the random people we come across day to day, but with 1100 members we can reach a lot of people. If you add in family, friends, neighbors, etc. each one of us can affect the way many people view firefighters and the union. Remember that, as firefighters, we are very high profile – people are watching us all the time, even we don’t realize it. Every negative message requires 10 to 13 positive messages to undo the damage. As the PFFI and your local’s leaders work on reaching our audiences (the general public and the Legislature) we need you communicating the same message to the audiences you can reach so it is reinforced.
We need you to continue being a good ambassador for the fire service and for the union. Anytime you can be identified as a firefighter or union member you should be thinking what kind of a message you are sending to those around you. Does the way I act, talk, dress, or treat people send a positive message that reinforces our brand or does it send a negative message that undermines our brand? Is there an opportunity to do some positive messaging? As a proactive approach you should try reaching those in your sphere of influence (family, friends, neighbors, etc.) with a positive message about firefighters, our union, and collective bargaining.
Until the session starts this is what you should be doing. You can also be preparing to assist with the grassroots effort we will need if the collective bargaining bill gets any momentum. We may call upon you to contact your legislator, write a letter to the editor, show up to a committee hearing at the Capitol, or distribute literature after we see what the legislative session brings.
I’ve been told that some of our members believe all hope is lost and that we have no chance. I want to encourage all of you to take heart. The work our local leaders and the lobbying team have done over this past 6 months is making a difference. We have reached out to a broad swath of legislators and it has definitely been noticed. The conversations we have had with these legislators give me a lot of encouragement. I believe there is a fair amount of support for our side of this issue within the legislature, especially with some key members. The wild card in this equation is how the bill will be introduced. Who sponsors it, which chamber they choose, what kind of publicity it gets, etc. can affect how much traction it gets. My goal is to keep it from ever getting off the ground.
Again, remember that there is a lot work going on behind the scenes. I feel good about that work and the impact it has already had. Keep your head up, be proud of the work you do and the union you belong to.
Please contact me with any questions or comments.
Professional Firefighters of Idaho
Executive Vice President