Leaders of the Los Angeles city firefighters' union are urging their members to finance aggressive new political campaigns, saying their salaries are vulnerable and retirement benefits are "under siege."
In a video posted on YouTube, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 said it wants each member to pay $38 per paycheck in union dues, up from $19. That money would go to the group's political action committee, which weighs in on elections, and send "a tremendous message" to City Hall, union President Frank Lima said in the video.
"It's about strength and fear, and we need to be strong right now," said Lima, at the video's conclusion, as an instrumental version of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" plays in the background.
The four-and-a-half-minute video features a pitch from former union president Steve Tufts, who said elected officials will take note if the union amasses a "substantial" sum in its PAC.
"If politicians see it, now we're relevant. Now they want to be our friend," he said.
Lima said in an interview that his use of the word "fear" was a reference to firefighters who are worried about their reduced staffing and benefits, not any effort to pressure lawmakers.
The union has made $425,000 in independent expenditures -- campaign donations that don't have to abide by city contribution limits -- in this year's election, most of it to support mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel. The group also has flexed its might with the City Council, successfully lobbying lawmakers to halt staffing changes planned by Fire Chief Brian Cummings, who had been seeking to add 11 new ambulances to the department's fleet by removing one member per shift from 22 firetrucks.
Cummings had argued that the change is needed to address an increase in 911 medical calls. Pressed by the union, the council tapped a reserve fund and provided money for both ambulances and fire trucks for nearly two months.
After that vote, Councilman Bernard C. Parks said he could not imagine the union getting a tighter grip on his colleagues. "They have people here doing somersaults now," he said.
The higher dues require a vote from the union's members. With 3,200 firefighters, the additional money could generate at least $1.5 million annually.
Firefighters received a 2% raise in January. Three more are on the way — 1% on July 1, 1% on Nov. 1 and 2% on March 1, 2014.
Lima said his organization will collect ballots on the bylaw change later this month. The money would go toward influencing both candidates and campaign issues.
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