KC Labor Beacon, January 1, 2024
By: Missouri State Representative Aaron Crossley
Organized labor is having a moment. A truly grassroots effort to protect workers and organized labor from a system that all too often discounts their contribution has grown, as workforces across the country in sectors as diverse as manufacturing, retail, entertainment, the service industry, and beyond. According to Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, there have been over 1,000 strikes across the United States this year, and even more general labor actions.
In more good news, not only is the labor movement growing in popularity, but they’re winning at the negotiating table. They’re securing historic contracts that include not just pay raises and benefits, but long-term solutions to pressing issues that will bring stability. The Hollywood Strikers even made the shortlist for the 2023 TIME Magazine Person of the Year.
However, while massive, important gains have been made in the private sector, we also need to remember that public sector workers — no matter where they work — deserve the same rights and protections, especially those who put their lives on the line to protect the people of their communities.
That’s why I filed the “First Responders’ Bill of Rights” to add much-needed worker protections for Missouri’s paid and volunteer firefighters, emergency medical service workers, dispatchers, paramedics, emergency maintenance technicians and emergency medical technicians.
While this bill does not increase wages or benefits (that would go through the appropriations process, and in the case of firefighters, local ballot initiatives and bargaining), it does promote fairness and accountability in the workplace. Workers know that working somewhere is not just about the monetary compensation, but that working in an environment and within a structure that treats you with dignity and respect, that cares about your well-being, also plays an important factor in where and why a worker does what they do for a living.
Should this bill make it into law, first responders across our state will have a new set of rights and protections under the law from potential malfeasance and malpractice committed by their employers and administrators. It will safeguard the rights of first responders during administrative investigations to ensure fair treatment and due process and it sets conditions for the timely completion of investigations, ensuring that disciplinary decisions are made promptly and within a reasonable timeframe. It will also enforce confidentiality and privacy protections for first responders and their families, including restrictions on the release of personal information and assets.
This legislation will also protect first responders’ constitutional rights, ensuring they can engage in political activities, seek public office and express their opinions without fear of reprisal from their employer while off duty.
Most of these protections already exist for firefighters and first responders in Missouri’s metro areas. But smaller unions in more rural areas do not enjoy these same protections.
We have the power to make Missouri a better place for all workers, no matter where they live.
With the unified support and voice of the labor movement, I believe we can get a bill like this across the finish line and into statute. I know I’ll be fighting hard for it to pass, and I hope I can carry even half the energy, passion and determination through the halls of the statehouse that people across the country have taken to the picket line this year.
About the Author
Representative Aaron Crossley, a Democrat, represents part of Jackson County (District 29) in the Missouri House of Representatives. He was elected to his first two-year term in November 2022.
In addition to his service in the legislature, Crossley works as a behavioral health business strategist and project manager at a local safety net hospital. He is also an adjunct professor teaching the social workers of tomorrow at a local university. Crossley is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and has spent two decades working in roles centered on social and community service.
He holds degrees from Appalachian Bible College and the University of Missouri – Kansas City.
Born in Independence, Crossley resides there today with his wife, Jessica. They have a son and a daughter. Crossley is a member of the St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
Brothers and sisters,
January is Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month. Tragically, IAFF members are constantly exposed to carcinogens on the job that make us far more likely to get sick or die from cancer than the average person.
Since the IAFF and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network launched the inaugural Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month in January 2021, our message has spread across the globe. Our collective voices are beginning to be heard, and we must keep at it. We are in a life and death battle.
In 2022, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared firefighting – our profession – a Group 1 threat, its most dangerous classification. Shortly after, the IAFF and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs issued a joint safety advisory warning of the adverse health risks in today’s bunker gear.
Last January, I shared your IAFF Executive Board’s decision to retain three world-renowned toxic tort law firms to assist our efforts to end fire fighter cancer and remove PFAS from use in the fire service.
This summer, Canada enacted historic legislation establishing a national framework for addressing fire fighter occupational cancer, including proclaiming January as Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month in Canada.
We all know that any call could be our last. But that does not mean we should not strive to make a dangerous job safer. In fact, that is the IAFF's mission.
Presumptive coverage for cancer-related illnesses and deaths in the U.S. and Canada continues to grow at a rapid pace as we work to get members the medical care and benefits they deserve. The IAFF is fighting to require the removal of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” from the PPE that is supposed to be designed to protect us. We are working with scientists, physicians, politicians, and environmentalists to develop independent research to study the connection between fire fighters and cancer.
Everyone shares in the obligation to care for public servants who dedicate their lives to protecting others. As members of the IAFF, that means doing everything we can to make the job safe – for our fallen, for the fire fighters of today, and for the generations to follow.
Get involved in Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month. Share our resources with your department and your communities. Together, let's end cancer in the fire service.
Be You. Be Strong. Be Fire Fighters.
Edward A. Kelly
We have been contacted by a number of Missourians who have been contacted by an organization that is calling the public asking for donations to assist Firefighters in the State of Missouri and in some instances they have reported raising funds for the MSCFF. These phone calls mainly originate from a 660 area code; however, it is possible that they are using other area codes within Missouri.
If you are contacted by this organization, please simply hang up the telephone and if possible block the number.
The Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters has not contracted with or authorized any entity to do fundraising for Firefighters in Missouri.
The Boeing Fire Fighters Local I-66 St. Louis, Missouri, chapter has won a new contract after facing threats of a lockout from one of the largest corporations in the world. The new 4-year contract includes up to 34 percent increase in wages over the life of the agreement, and members will now be paid for every hour of their 24-hour shifts.
IAFF 7th District Vice President Ricky Walsh hailed the deal as “a job well done by all involved.” A unified effort from the IAFF, 7th District leadership, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters (MSCFF), and several labor groups delivered the new contract in the face of repeated threats by Boeing.
“Congratulations to Boeing Local I-66 for persevering through this tough battle and negotiating a solid contract,” Walsh said. “This union showed that if you stay strong and unified, big companies like Boeing don’t hold all the power. Thanks go to General President Kelly, Secretary-Treasurer Líma, and our entire Executive Board, who voted to support a strike if necessary.”
Local I-66 represents the interests of Boeing facility fire fighters, inspectors, and lieutenants in St. Louis, Lake City, Missouri, and Washington State. Boeing Company is valued at more than $140 billion.
“We are pleased to have our voices heard and the resulting favorable contract,” Local I-66 President Casey Yeager said. “The company now knows that we will do what it takes to ensure our members get fair wages, benefits, and, above all, fair treatment. I appreciate General President Kelly and the IAFF’s commitment to ensuring us whatever resources we needed to be successful.”
District Vice President Walsh and Boeing Local I-66 President Yeager with other members of the negotiations team
St. Louis’ I-66 members had been woefully underpaid for much of the previous CBA, which did not account for inflation. This made wages one of the priority issues during negotiations.
The local was also pushing to be paid for their full 24-hour shifts. Like some other private sector employers, Boeing had historically refused to pay its fire fighters for shift hours when they may be sleeping. This newly negotiated contract, which includes payment for full shift hours, will result in an average pay increase of 22 percent.
Boeing dug in during talks, initially refusing to budge on wages or pay for the full 24 hours. The company sent a lockout letter to Local I-66, in effect, a take-it-or-leave-it demand tied to its last offer.
Walsh, who had been present over the final days of negotiations, reached out to General President Edward Kelly to help rally the support of the trade unions and labor councils.
“This union doesn’t back down from a fight, even if it’s against a big company like Boeing,” Kelly said. “The IAFF, along with the rest of labor, was prepared to utilize the full weight of its resources to stand by our brothers and sisters in St. Louis.”
The labor groups stood in solidarity behind the I-66 fire fighters, sending letters to Boeing notifying the company of their stances.
Since a lockout would have essentially forced the union members to go on strike, IAFF 7th District, MSCFF, and I-66 leaders also launched a fund to help members with bills if they were locked out. The goal was to raise $80,000. They were already halfway there when Boeing backed off its threats.
With one day to go before the lockout was to take effect, Boeing agreed to a four-year contract with raises and pay for the full 24-hour shift.
The victory was bittersweet for the Local I-66 team because J.T. Boothman, a member who wrote most of the proposals while receiving treatment for cancer, died during negotiations.
Yeager, the Local I-66 President, said the union “could not have successfully negotiated this contract without him.”
Boothman, who dedicated his life to service as a paramedic and fire fighter, was 57.
Last week, the IAFF won a major victory before the Missouri Supreme Court.
2nd District Vice President Mark Woolbright contacted me about a very troubling workers' compensation decision by a Missouri Court of Appeals. Although the court ruled in the employee's favor, the decision held that to qualify for workers' compensation, a worker must exhibit visible symptoms of an injury at the time of the incident. This decision threatened fire fighters' ability to obtain workers’ compensation in Missouri because several of the types of injuries that fire fighters experience on the job, including internal injuries and injuries masked by adrenaline, do not manifest observable symptoms until hours or even days after the injury occurred.
Upon learning that the Court of Appeals decision was being appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court by the employer and the insurance carrier, and at DVP Woolbright's request, I immediately mobilized the full strength of the IAFF to challenge this restrictive standard. The IAFF's Legal Counsel worked with the IAFF's Chief Medical Officer and Science and Research staff to craft an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief submitted to the Missouri Supreme Court on behalf of the IAFF showing why the decision was harmful to fire fighters and would jeopardize their right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
On November 21, the Supreme Court rejected the employer's and the insurance carrier's arguments. Importantly for fire fighters, the Court ruled, as the IAFF requested, that testimony from a doctor after the fact that an on-the-job injury caused symptoms is credible evidence that an injury meets the criteria for workers’ compensation coverage in Missouri. This win ensures fire fighters can continue to obtain workers’ compensation for on-the-job injuries that do not immediately manifest symptoms, provided they have doctors who testify that current symptoms were suffered on the job.
This is a significant victory for Missouri fire fighters, as it allows doctors to provide credible evidence of whether an injury was caused on the job, rejecting efforts to narrow the scope of obtaining workers’ compensation only to those situations when symptoms are observable to a third party at the time of injury.
Please contact DVP Woolbright if you have questions about the decision or how it impacts fire fighters in Missouri. The case is Harper v. Springfield Rehab and Health Care Center/NHC Health, No. SC100006.
Be You. Be Strong. Be Fire Fighters.
Edward A. Kelly