A Short History of IAFF, Local 522
by Mike Ferguson
On June 30, 1937 the predecessor of Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 began. A Charter of Affiliation was granted by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) to the Capitol City Uniformed Fire Fighters Association No. 522. Although the firefighters of the day were generally dissatisfied with the 72 hour workweek at the time, relatively high wages and the stability of civil service employment during the Great Depression contrived to keep membership in the union low.
The Locals progress was significantly hampered by World War II but its few members did their best to try and cope with the power of city management and the erosion of salaries during this time of significant monetary inflation.
By June 1, 1955 the Capitol City Fire Fighters was nearly defunct when an organizing team (George Gallagher – Vice President IAFF; Albert E. Albertoni – President Federated Fire Fighters of California and Harvey McNamara of the Oakland Fire Dept.) came to old Engine 10 on Stockton Blvd. to try and convince Capt. John Steely to revive the Local. This new recruitment drive proved to be a major turning point in the history of the Local and under the vision and leadership of President Kenneth D. Severitt and with the assistance of John L. Gross as Vice President and John Steely as Secretary-Treasurer the organization began to grow.
On June 23, 1956 the Local affiliated with the Federated Fire Fighters of California (Later to become California Professional Fire Fighters – CPF) and soon after was even sending its own organizing teams to other fire departments and hosted the statewide convention of the Federated Fire Fighters. Development of insurance programs by the FFF and the establishment of payroll deduction for union dues by city firefighters helped to expand the rolls of the Local and the art of politics refined. (Kenneth Severitt would go on to become President of Federated Fire Fighters and proved to be instrumental in obtaining presumptive illness legislation for fire fighters in California)
The removal of the “No Strike” clause by the IAFF due to Management abuse of Labor in cities throughout the country foreshadowed things to come in Sacramento. Working hours had been reduced and salaries had been stabilized by annual adjustments averaged to comparable California cities when in 1970 the City of Sacramento hired a new personnel director. The new personnel director thought to make a name for himself by downgrading the fire fighters job and base salaries on the pay scales of the smaller departments developing on the fringes around the city. This along with the refusal of the City to submit disputes to binding arbitration pushed employee dissatisfaction to outrage.
On October 1, 1970 John Steely spoke on behalf of the Local to the Sacramento City Council. That inspiring speech and outlined: “Several basic truths which should always be postulated as the basis for any honest and fair wage and hour Negotiating Procedures in City Service”. Despite Steely’s moving ‘Crossing the Rubicon‘ speech the Council refused to budge and on the morning of October 7, 1970 the firefighters went out on Strike.
Nearly 2 weeks into the strike it looked as if it would be a hard fought battle for the Local as the City with the assistance of the League of Cities and the use of California Department of Forestry firefighters to backfill Sacramento City fire stations, dug in its heels. Many believed that the City of Sacramento would be able to break the Union when Sacramento Bus Drivers Local 256 in a show of solidarity came to the firefighters aid and walked out. Within several days the city returned to the negotiating table and soon quietly implemented the Unions demands.
The Capitol City Fire fighters Association #522 became the Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522 in 19xx. Since then it has grown to represent all of the fire agencies in Sacramento County as well as the City of West Sacramento, and has continued to strive to improve working conditions, salary and benefits for firefighters in the Sacramento Area.