NEARLY 1,000 US Fire Fighters (IAFF) are set to take part in today’s 2008 presidential campaign’s first bipartisan candidate forum on Wednesday in Washington, DC.
The six Democratic and four Republican White House hopefuls set to appear, will each have 15 minutes to lay out their case and try to convince IAFF members at the union’s annual legislative conference they deserve the union’s endorsement.
Says IAFF President Harold Schaitberger: ‘It is incumbent upon all of us to listen very carefully to what these candidates have to say.
‘We must consider their track record and evaluate their support for the issues important to our profession and our members’ lives.’
Two of the Fire Fighters who will be listening carefully are federal fire fighters from IAFF Local F37 at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago – Capt. Andy Arndt, the local’s president, and Local F37 member Perry Pace.
Says Pace: ‘I want to hear how they relate to fire fighter issues and the several bills we consider important. I want to see what they can do for us.
‘Arndt says he also plans to listen carefully to the “overall ideas on labour issues” of the candidates, including collective bargaining.’
He points out that most federal fire fighters are faced with losing their collective bargaining rights because as Department of Defense employees, they fall under the much-criticised National Security Personnel System (NSPS).
The United DoD Workers Coalition is challenging the new personnel rules in court.
The new Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to take up legislation to restore the bargaining rights of the nearly 750,000 Defense Department workers who have seen their workplace rights eroded by the Bush administration’s NSPS.
Says Schaitberger: ‘I don’t have to tell you that this union’s number one priority this week will be providing collective bargaining rights for all fire fighters and EMS (emergency medical service) workers.
‘Nothing is more important to this union.
‘Nothing is more important to our members in improving their standard of living and protecting their safety than their right to organise and bargain a contract.’
The candidates scheduled to appear at the forum are: Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), Rep, Duncan Hunter (R-Calif), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D).
With the announcement by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) that he has postponed a decision on whether he will run for president, it was unclear if he will speak as scheduled.
Schaitberger says the union decided to invite all major candidates of both political parties, even those ‘with whom we have substantial disagreements on policy issues’ such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani initially accepted the invitation to take part in the forum, but backed out last week.
Schaitberger had this to say about the Giuliani issue in a letter to his members.
‘The IAFF made a decision early on to invite all major candidates from both political parties, even those with whom we have substantial disagreement on policy issues.
‘However, beginning last November, I had discussions with our New York City affiliate presidents of Locals 94 and 854 about whether to invite former Mayor Rudy Giuliani based on his egregious treatment of our 343 fallen on 9/11, their families and our members following that horrific day.
‘After many discussions among the local presidents and me, we initially decided to not invite Giuliani. To make sure we explained clearly to our affiliates and members why he wasn’t going to be invited, we prepared a DRAFT letter that would have only been distributed internally if the decision became final not to invite him.
‘Then, after additional discussions, including at our recent Executive Board meeting, we made a final decision to extend an invitation to Mayor Giuliani. And the DRAFT letter was never distributed.
‘Ultimately, Giuliani was invited because we decided we should remain true to our principles and invite all major candidates, regardless of party, even those with whom we have disagreed on issues in the past.
‘A call was placed by the IAFF Governmental Affairs Division to the Giuliani campaign, inviting the candidate to our Forum. A high-ranking official in Giuliani’s campaign, Tim Brown, returned our call on Friday, March 2 and requested that we accommodate the Mayor in the early part of the day.
‘After considerable work to get other speakers to agree to change their times, we opened up 9.30 am for Giuliani, and let the campaign know. Mr Brown called on Monday, March 5 and confirmed the Mayor’s attendance.
‘Then late on Wednesday, March 7, Mr Brown called once again and informed us that Giuliani had decided to cancel his participation in our Forum.
‘Since the former Mayor decided not to participate in our event, and because the media has become aware of the DRAFT letter that was designed to inform our members why we were not inviting former Mayor Giuliani, we wanted you to hear of this situation straight from us, so you know the whole story.
‘We did not intend for that DRAFT to become public, it was solely for internal discussion amongst a very few.’
Meanwhile the battle for health care continues.
Stop & Shop workers represented by five United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local Unions achieved a solid victory when they ratified a three-year contract agreement securing affordable, quality health care with access for all Stop & Shop workers.
With the support of community members and other employees of the Dutch-owned Stop & Shop parent company Ahold, workers held firm in their resolve to improve health care accessibility, quality, and cost for part-timers as well as full-timers.
They achieved their aims, with a contract that cuts new hires’ waiting period for health care in half and requires no monthly contribution towards health care from part-timers, who make up 80 per cent of the Stop & Shop workforce in New England.
Full-timers will make a modest, affordable monthly contribution towards health care premiums. Workers were also able to secure good wage increases and retirement security for all Stop & Shop employees.
Coordinated action with supporters and customers was the key to the workers’ success.
Community members and grocery workers sent emails of support, called store managers and Stop & Shop CEO Jose Alvarez, wrote letters to the editors of local newspapers, and signed petitions promising not to shop at Stop & Shop if workers were forced to strike.
UFCW members working for Ahold companies in other areas on the East Coast posted flyers in their stores, held rallies and leafleted customers.
Presidents of UFCW Local Unions representing Ahold workers attended a bargaining session with Stop & Shop to show solidarity with New England workers.
The coordinated effort in New England is part of a nationwide bargaining unity programme among UFCW grocery workers.
Over 400,000 UFCW grocery workers across the country and in Canada are negotiating new contracts throughout 2007.
By supporting each other regionally and nationally, as well as engaging customers and community members in their struggle, grocery workers can improve grocery industry jobs for themselves and their communities.