Many of you may have received the latest Newsletter from the LEOFF 1 Coalition. They go to great length to demonstrate how they represent LEOFF 1 members and, also. to attempt to alarm LEOFF 1 members by claiming that an attack on the system is imminent. The newsletter is eight pages in length and is full of misleading and incorrect information. I will not attempt an article by article review, but I do feel certain glaring errors need to be pointed out.
You are not represented by the Coalition.
First, the Coalition continues to assert that they represent all LEOFF 1 members. So, I would ask you, a LEOFF 1 member, can you elect the members of the Coalition Board? No, you cannot. Can you elect the Coalition president and other officers? No, you cannot. Can you influence the positions the Coalition takes on issues by voting for your position? No, you cannot. Can you review the Coalition budget, income and expenses? No, you cannot. Joe May, a retired Yakima fire fighter, was just installed on the Coalition Board. Did you get a chance to vote for him? No, you did not.
The reason for all of this is that the Coalition has no membership. The Board consists of nine members. They make all the decisions and none of those decisions are subject to member oversight because there are no members. They publish no meeting minutes, and, in fact, there is no indication that they even have meetings. They issue no financial statements so that you cannot even know if they need money. They have no budget.
So, why would you want to give money to such an organization? I cannot think of a single reason.
The LEOFF 1 plan is not under attack.
To frighten LEOFF 1 members, the Coalition asserts in their newsletter that the pension is being attacked. It even claims that there are secret plans to include some sort of merger or seize LEOFF 1 assets in a last-minute budget bill. Yet no evidence is offered. The conspiring legislators are not named, and no proposed bill is listed. This is nothing more than alarmist rhetoric. It is designed to scare folks into sending money to the Coalition.
I can assure you that if we had information suggesting an attack on LEOFF 1 we would have filled your inbox with emails and notified all the other organization—including the Coalition. Of course, they have not notified anyone except to use the concept to frighten folks into sending them money. Why is that? If they were to provide their “secret” information to others they would have to explain the source. Since there is no such information, they cannot tell you where they get the information.
It is true that there have been attacks on our system in the past. We have beaten them off every time. That has been because we aggressively respond and mobilize LEOFF 1 members. We fill your inboxes with notices, and you respond by making phone calls, writing letters and attending hearings.
It is also true that Senator Van DeWege did attempt to propose a merger back in 2019. He held some stakeholder meetings and even proposed a $20,000 payout. It failed to get any support from anyone in the LEOFF 1 community or the legislature. It died because it could not pass. It never even became a legislative bill. That was the last attack and it collapsed before it took even a first step.
Do not send the Coalition any money. They do not need it and they do not represent you.
Much ado about LEOFF organizations.
The newsletter makes a big fuss about organizations that have LEOFF 1 and LEOFF 2 members. They claim that such organizations cannot properly represent their members because of a conflict of interest. That claim is without merit and for a number of reasons. First, there are few LEOFF 2 members at this point—that may be a problem in 20 years, but there will be damn few LEOFF 1 folks left in 20 years. At this point there is not significant interest into creating an entirely new LEOFF 1 only organization.
Second, it has been these very organizations that have fought hardest to protect LEOFF 1. The Retired Fire Fighters of Washington has been one of the hardest fighters. They have proposed and passed over 19 pieces of legislation making significant improvements to the LEOFF 1 plan. They have looked after the interest of LEOFF 1 members. They have improved the pensions of the survivors. They do this even though they also have LEOFF 2 members. The Coalition has never proposed a bill of any sort.
Third, there is really no conflict between LEOFF 1 and LEOFF 2. Sure LEOFF 2 wants to improve their pension and would like to have an influx of dollars for benefit improvement. But they know that they have no claim on the LEOFF 1 funds. They never contributed a dime to LEOFF 1. The only argument they can make is that LEOFF 1 and LEOFF 2 were in the same business and that just will not buy enough support in the legislature to pass a merger bill.
LEOFF 2 retirees have some real problems. They have no one to represent them. They are no longer a part of the unions. Benefit improvement proposals generally leave retired members out of the improvements. We are crippled in organizing LEOFF 2 because of a lack of knowledge about who and where they are. So, the existing retired organizations that already have the resources, lobbyists and experience remain the natural spot for LEOFF 2 members. It may not be perfect, but thus far it is the only place for them.
To suggest that because an organization had both LEOFF 1 and LEOFF 2 members they are incapable of representing either is disingenuous and contrary to experience. This argument is, however, the very reason you need to ensure any organization you might support is structured to represent you. A recent proposal by the Washington Council of Fire Fighters to represent retired fire fighters by forming a retired section fails on the issue of representation because they do not empower their retirees to impact policy. The Coalition fails because they do not allow for members and they do not allow LEOFF 1 folks to impact their policy.
Who owns the surplus?
Currently the LEOFF 1 surplus is at $1.4 billion. That is a concern because there are a lot of folks who would like a piece of that money. LEOFF 2 was able to take $300 million out of their fund to create a benefit improvement account. They did not have much pushback, but they did their due diligence in bringing forth the legislation. Only mild objections were expressed by the Association of Washington Cities and the county lobbying group. They did not finish the job however. The distribution of that money has yet to be determined.
There are significant differences between LEOFF 1 and LEOFF 2. Any attempt to do something similar with LEOFF 1 funds will require significant planning and lobbying efforts. The water has yet to be tested. There are legal issues that have not yet been properly studied. We can write many pages detailing why we think the surplus money belongs to the LEOFF 1 members and beneficiaries. It would sound really good but could be folly if we try to act like lawyers. Even if we can argue the legal reasons for the claim it means nothing unless we can convince the courts and legislature our theory is correct. A lot of work needs to be done. We believe the Coalition is premature in pushing this issue as they have yet to do anything but talk about it among themselves. This is where they should work with other organizations to develop a plan and build support.
Please do not respond in any way to the Coalition newsletter and particularly do not send them any money. They do not need it and organizations like the RFFOW and RSPOA are well funded, have lobbyists and are able to deal with any threats. In a worst-case scenario, we have little doubt that LEOFF 1 members will step-up to fund a major effort.
The RFFOW and RSPOA have conducted their own survey. It will be in your mailbox soon. They do not ask for money but are attempting to build a better database that will enable them to contact more members more efficiently. Please complete and return that survey when you receive it.
There is a lot of information about these issues on LEOFF1.Net. You can learn about the issue and the history at the following links.
While some of our comments are critical, we want to acknowledge that even though the Coalition can easily be criticized we know of no impropriety or abuse on their part. The differences are because of their tendency to use scare tactics for fundraising and to make statements that are incorrect. I believe that the members of the Coalition board are honorable and act in the way they think if the best interests of LEOFF 1. Of course, if you don’t agree there is nothing you can do.
To represent is defined as: “To speak and act for by delegated authority.” Nobody has delegated any authority to the Coalition.Follow us on Facebook