Illinois Member’s Master’s Degree Project Helps AFFI Lobby Pension Legislation

May 16 • 2017

Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Local 4224 Treasurer Steve Shetsky, a 2015 IAFF Political Training Academy, enrolled in American University’s Public Administration and Policy’s Master Degree program with the goal of taking what he learned and using it to better assist his fellow IAFF members. And it is already paying off.

For his final thesis project, Shetsky, working with a group of other students, completed a policy analysis of Illinois SB 1335.

“Typically, we garner our information from our legislators and various trusted sources to assist with lobbying,” says AFFI President Pat Devaney. “But Shetsky and his student team did such a thorough job on their policy analysis, it really cut down on the legwork we needed to do for SB 1335. The information will be invaluable going forward.”

The legislation proposes to amend the Downstate Fire Fighter Article of the Illinois Pension Code to require a local government that employs a fire fighter who is full-time in a different municipality to contribute to the pension fund from that fire fighter’s primary employer.

First, the group used the Freedom of Information Act to submit a request to the state fire marshal’s office to obtain all the names of the fire fighters in the state. Then, they identified names that appeared in more than one fire department. Shetsky took that list and cross-referenced the names against the AFFI membership.

“Pretty quickly, we could show that a significant number of fire fighters work for two separate departments, but my group needed to show why it is imperative for the secondary department to contribute to the pension stem,” says Shetsky.

There is a specific clause in the Illinois Pension Code that says that because they are subject to “heavy smoke fumes, and carcinogenic, poisonous, toxic or chemical gases from fires” that it is presumed if a fire fighter develops cancer, it is due to these exposures.

As further backing documentation, Shetsky included studies from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) and others which, scientifically, link fire fighting to cancer.

“Fire fighters can be exposed to carcinogens whether they are working for their primary department or their secondary department,” says Shetsky. “Therefore, both municipalities should contribute to the pension system.”

The result of this policy analysis not only helped him earn his masters and entrance into the Honor Society for School of Public Affairs (Pi Alpha Alpha), but it also provided the AFFI with a tool to lobby the state legislature to pass SB 1335.

SB 1335 is currently being considered by the Senate, but has not been voted on yet.