Danbury, CT Local 801 President Jeffrey Tomchik has had a busy few years. While attending the National Labor College (NLC) pursuing his bachelor’s degree in labor studies, NLC announced it was closing its doors in the spring of 2014. The students at NLC were afforded the opportunity to finish their degrees through a process called “teach out,” which aligned NLC and its curriculum with five local colleges, essentially offering the same courses and allowing former NLC students to complete their degrees.
“The NLC will be sorely missed, as it had such a strong background in the public sector and provided such great opportunities, including a residency program that just cannot be replaced,” says Tomchik.
Through the teach-out process, Tomchik attended the Empire State College of the State University of New York (SUNY) and now has his bachelor’s degree in labor studies. However, it took him a little longer to complete his degree than he had previously planned, as he was elected ─ somewhat out of the blue ─ president of Local 801 in July 2014.
At the same time, Tomchik has been working at the state Capitol with the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters (UPFFA) of Connecticut ─ on lobbying efforts to adjust and modify presumptive cancer legislation. In fact, Tomchik’s thesis at Empire College was on expanding workers’ compensation benefits for fire fighters who get cancer. Therefore, much of his professional work at the state Capitol fueled his personal studies and ambitions to fulfill his degree.
At the request of the UPFFA, Tomchik was placed on a committee to meet with representatives from the state House, a senator and representatives from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities ─ a team that had spent a lot of money working to overcome the fire fighters’ legislative efforts for cancer coverage.
“We sat down at the table, and our team was there to find a way to work with both of these groups to find an affordable, reasonable solution to protecting our fire fighters when they get cancer on the job,” says Tomchik.
The legislative team from the UPFFA was eventually successful in passing HB 5262 in April of 2016, which will expand the list of presumptive occupational diseases to include a long list of cancers for fire fighters.
It was that process that alerted Tomchik to the possibility of running for the Connecticut House of Representatives. “We were looking for someone to fill an upcoming vacancy and because of my educational background, my colleagues were encouraging me to consider it,” he says. The IAFF programs made available were vital in helping Tomchik feel prepared to take on the campaign for the House seat. “The Political Training Academy, ALTS, PEP courses, legislative conferences ─ they all made the public sector stuff easier to understand and apply towards campaigning,” says Tomchik. “I knew what I was doing and what I stood for.”
Tomchik says that Connecticut is lucky to have collective bargaining. However, he adds, “We are one governor away from having that taken away.” Tomchik’s primary platform is to help other elected officials understand the collective bargaining process and to preserve the benefits that are awarded. There are processes in place that give unfair advantages to municipalities and their ability to overturn arbitration awards. Tomchik seeks to level the playing field and make sure his fellow representatives are steered in the right direction.
“Our state is having a tough time. We have a huge deficit problem, and we are looking at 800 state employee layoffs. But our municipalities are still providing quality education and communities to live in. It’s a balancing act and one that I think I can play a positive role in,” says Tomchik.
Tomchik made a formal announcement of his decision to run for the Connecticut House of Representatives in April, and he is working hard to gain the endorsement of local teachers, nurses, the AFL-CIO of Connecticut and his local union.