April 9, 1954 our Charter was signed welcoming Local 1159 into the International Association of Fire Fighters. Those first union brothers were from the fire departments of Lake Oswego, Oregon City and the City of Milwaukie. Names such as Kirchhoffer, Koenig, Wills and Newton were the leaders of their day. Through the remainder of the 50’s these brothers sought an audience collectively with their employers on wage and time woked issues. The annual salary for a fire fighter in the county was $275 per month for a 24 on 24 off schedule. This schedule was continued into the middle 1960’s. More departments were now looking at union membership as departments were growing in size and working conditions needed many improvements. Clackamas Fire District #1 joined and brought union membership up to 75 and growing. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were a tremendous period for union activity at the state and local level. Local 1159 members Lindquist, Wolford and Winters were very active in the Oregon State Legislature with other locals in Oregon and crafted the first Collective Bargaining Law for Fire Fighters. The hard work and thankless dedication of those union fire fighters paid off in making Oregon’s Collective Bargaining law one of the most successful in the country. The right to binding arbitration, no strike provision, closed shop and open subject impact bargaining was developed and has been enjoyed for the last 30 years.
The 1970’s brought the locals membership to 8 departments, CCFD #1, Milwaukie, Oak Lodge #51, CCFD #54, CCFD #65, CCFD #55, West Linn and a few members of CCFD #71. Local 1159 had gone through many growing pains and strained relationships within and outside the union. Oregon City Fire Department left to start their non union Firemen’s Association. An Oak Lodge fire fighter named Keith Wolford brought a new sense of pride and activism to Local 1159 and started raising the expectations of membership and sense of duty to the union. The local also became actively involved in MDA Summer Camp in Canby. Another name surfaced in the Local, Victor McPherson was preparing for a run as President. The late 1970’s and early 80’s were difficult times in Oregon and the home building slump was killing the economy. Within the Local and at the state level the negotiator’s drafted PERS pickup in lieu of raises in all of the 1159 departments and employer/ employee match language was first instituted.
The 1980’s brought another two departments into Local 1159 Canby Fire District and Clarkes Fire District. These were departments that had long been all volunteer and wanted the benefits of strong successful union contracts to support already strong community backing. These additions made Local 1159 the most diverse in parity and the largest in number of departments served in the Northwest. Local 1159 had the distinction of having the highest paid department in the state and one of the lowest too. The newly elected President, Victor McPherson was very aggressive in contract negotiations and wrote some of the most progressive contract language that is still in use today. The middle 1980’s also started the age of consolidation. The smaller fire districts in Local 1159, realizing that economy of scale, diverse fire response needs and redundant services were costing far too much for services rendered started talking about consolidation. Clackamas County Fire Districts #71, 54, and 65 all got together and built a jointly manned station with the idea of functional consolidation. The biggest issue was pay parity and who was going to be Chief. The local was aware of the pay disparity among the departments and crafted language that allowed the lower paid departments to catch up and still keep the highest paid happy and up to the cost of living. This was no small effort with strong union members in Districts 54 and 65 and the higher paid non union District 71. Names like Winters, Dahl, Karn, Cauthorn, Wilson and Bell stood up to the membership and put the deal together. Finally in 1989 all three departments merged and in 1991 FD #1 came back into 1159 with the ending of a contract with Portland Fire. The last merge resulted in 36 new fire fighter positions and brought our union member ship to a high of 215 members.
In the 1990’s President McPherson and Vice President James Karn led the Local through more mergers and to the point where we are today. Oregon City Fire Department, the first career fire department west of the Mississippi, was back in Local 1159 as were mergers of Fire District 55 into Clackamas County Fire District #1. Canby continued to add paid fire fighters along with Lake Oswego and West Linn. These were also tough times for fire fighters in Oregon. Ballot measures limiting tax rates, pension reform and right to work issues along with a swing to a Republican held house and Senate led to wide sweeping changes to our Collective Bargaining Law. These issues led to change in tactics for our experienced and very successful bargainers, no longer could we just prove we worth more, we had to temper our offers with “Last best Offer” and permissive and mandatory subjects of bargaining. Throughout this process Local 1159 has evolved into a leader in Contract Procurement, pay, hours worked and grievance handling.
Our local is proud of our history and will continue to negotiate the best possible contracts and working conditions in the fire service.