Give Health Care to Firefighters Who Battle Wildfires
Right now, wild fires are raging in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. And more are sure to come.
I'm a part of a hotshot crew of firefighters. We are on call to go anywhere, at any time to fight fires in our country. It's intense work, but my crew is like my family and we are all committed to serving our communities.
Because wildfire is more common from May to October, most of us are seasonally employed. More than 90% of us return year after year and we often work the equivalent of a full year in 6-7 months. Despite this -- and despite putting our lives on the line every day- we still don’t have the opportunity to buy into a government health care plan even at the most basic level.
This is because we are classified as temporary workers.
I have been a wildland firefighter for 6 years and I still don't have health insurance, but I'm one of the lucky ones. Just in my own hotshot crew, I've seen the damage and suffering this lack of coverage can produce.
My godson, Rudy, was born prematurely. Rudy’s dad, a fellow firefighter, was stuck with $70,000 worth of hospital bills that he and his wife couldn’t pay back. All because the federal government won’t allow him to access health insurance. Another crew member’s child, who was born even more recently, required special attention in the hospital and his parents’ are now facing a $40,000 in medical bills.
Wildland firefighters face enormous risks in order to serve and protect our communities. In the past 12 years, 179 wildland firefighters have been killed in the line of duty, and the conditions of the firefighting environment have been linked to cancer and permanent lung damage.
We want federal legislation that gives us that option, but we know that Congress can be slow moving. That's why we are asking President Obama to extend health coverage benefits to seasonal wildland firefighters.
Baby Rudy doesn’t deserve to be born into debt -- his father is a hero.
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Federal Employees: You have a right to sign this. Click here to read legal permission from the Office of Special Council.
The Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326) governs the political activity of federal civilian executive branch employees. The Act permits most covered employees to actively participate in partisan political management and partisan political campaigns. Employees, however, are prohibited from: using their official authority or influence for the purpose of affecting the result of an election; knowingly soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions from any person; being candidates for public office in partisan elections; and knowingly soliciting or discouraging the political activity of any individual with business before their employing office. 5 U.S.C. § 7323(a)(1)-(4). The Hatch Act also prohibits employees from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government building, while wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle. 5 U.S.C. § 7324. Political activity has been defined as activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for a partisan political office or partisan political group. 5 C.F.R. § 734.101.
However, the Hatch Act does not prohibit covered employees from engaging in nonpartisan political activities. In upholding the constitutionality of the Hatch Act, the Supreme Court observed that “[i]t is only partisan political activity that is interdicted . . . Expressions, public or private, on public affairs, personalities and matters of public interest, not an objective of party action, are unrestricted by law so long as the Government employee does not direct his activities toward party success.” United Public Workers of America v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 100 (1947) (emphasis added); see also, Civil Serv. Comm’n v. National Ass’n of Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 556 (1973); S. Rep. No. 103-57, at 2 (1993) (“For more than a century, the idea that Federal employees should not be involved in partisan politics has been a fundamental civil service feature”) (emphasis added). The Supreme Court also noted that the prohibition against political activity “was not to be construed to prohibit political activity . . . in connection with questions not specifically identified with any national or state political party, such as questions relating to constitutional amendments, referendums, approval of municipal ordinances, and others of a similar character.” National Ass’n of Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. at 562.
Thus, the Act would not prohibit U.S. Forest Service employees from advocating for a nonpartisan issue, such as health insurance for seasonal employees. However, when participating in such nonpartisan advocacy, we caution that you should not engage in any fundraising for a candidate, party, or political organization and, if any activities occur while on duty or in a federal building, to avoid anything that is directed at a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan organization.
Corinne R. Seibert
Attorney, Hatch Act Unit
U.S. Office of Special Counsel
- President Obama
- White House Chief of Staff
I just signed the following petition addressed to: President Barack Obama.
Dear President Obama,
I am writing to request an optional health benefits plan for seasonally employed federal wildland firefighters and their families.
The work that wildland firefighters perform is critical. Each year they are responsible for keeping tens of thousands of homes and businesses from being consumed, often protecting entire towns from the threat of fire.
Because wildfire is overwhelmingly more common between the months of May to October, the majority of firefighters are seasonally employed. More than 90% of these return to service year after year. They often work the equivalent of a full year's worth of hours in six to seven months, but are never given the opportunity to buy into a government health care plan even at the most basic level, because they are classified as temporary workers.
There are many risks these brave men and women take in order to serve their community. Since the year 2000, 179 wildland firefighters have been killed in the line of duty, and the conditions of the firefighting environment have been linked to cancer and respiratory disease leading to permanent lung damage.
Seasonal federal wildland firefighters demonstrate a commitment to service equal to that of permanently employed firefighters and other emergency responders. It is only right and fair that they have access to a quality, affordable health plan for themselves and their families. I urge you to introduce legislation that makes seasonally employed federal wildland firefighters and their immediate families eligible for year-round health insurance coverage.
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