Charitable Contributions For Disabled Children Pad Fire Fighter Union-Boss Coffers Instead


Late every summer, unionized fire fighters across the country stand outside stores, on street corners, and in other public places with heavy foot and car traffic to conduct their “Fill the Boot” campaign, which raises money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). 

Practically everyone reading this has probably encountered rank-and-file fire fighters imploring passersby to “fill the boot.”  Everywhere this campaign goes on, participants seem glad to be raising money to help and, ultimately, find cures for muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic diseases that typically begin affecting people when they are children or teenagers.

But Harold Schaitberger, International Association of Fire Fighters union President from 2000 until a few weeks ago, and other top IAFF officials, including new IAFF President Ed Kelly, apparently like the “Fill the Boot” campaign a bit more than others for another reason:

It helps their organization, which extracts well over $60 million a year in dues money from fire fighters and EMT’s, thanks primarily to the legal monopoly-bargaining privileges they wield in the vast majority of the 50 states, to rake in even more money.  

According to a recent report by Bill McMorris for Real Clear Investigations, since 2005, the MDA and its affiliates have “forked over more than $10 million” to the central headquarters of the IAFF in Washington, D.C.   In 2018 alone, added Morris, the IAFF brass was awarded $1.15 million by the MDA, far more than the charity donated to any hospital, university lab, or other medical researcher that actually treats Muscular Dystrophy patients or searches for cures.

Although the MDA lists many much smaller grants it makes to other organizations on its 990 disclosure filings to the IRS, it has never included any payments made to the IAFF brass on its 990s.   Nevertheless, IAFF spokesmen interviewed by McMorris insisted the MDA’s hefty payments to the IAFF are on the up-and-up. 

Part-time officers and members of local IAFF affiliates quoted in the Real Clear Investigations report aren’t buying it.  For example, D.C. fire fighter Greg Markley, now a candidate for IAFF treasurer, called the MDA payments to the IAFF hierarchy “ridiculous”:

“Could you imagine that we told the first 50 locals that raised $20,000 each . . . that the monies they worked hard to raise were actually going to the IAFF for overhead and nothing to MDA?  I think we would have a major uprising in our union.  Our members raised those dollars directly for MDA only for it to be given back to the IAFF.”   

According to Eric Lamar, a former fire fighter and Schaitberger aide whose current observations about IAFF affairs are published on Medium, the expenses for “Fill the Boot” campaigns are often covered by fire departments who provide trucks and “logistical support.”  “The IAFF,” says Lamar, “spends next to nothing” to raise funds for the MDA.  The millions the union has collected from the charity amount, in his words, “to thinly veiled extortion.”

Along with a federal criminal investigation into questionable, largely union dues-funded pension distributions made to Schaitberger and former IAFF Treasurer Thomas Miller while they were still employed by the union, the apparent willingness of many high-ranking IAFF officials to accept what look like kickbacks from a charity that is supposed to help sick children illustrates why many rank-and-file fire fighters and EMT’s want to have nothing to do with the IAFF.

A growing number of lawmakers across the country are publicly expressing support for the repeal of state monopoly bargaining laws that force public-safety officers and other public servants to allow government union bosses to speak for them on matters concerning their pay, benefits, and work rules, even if they don’t belong to the union and would never want to join it.  

Unfortunately, if Big Labor President Joe Biden has his way, state elected officials won’t have the ability any more to protect fire fighters and EMT’s from being forced to associate with dubious characters like Harold Schaitberger (who happens to have been one of Biden’s most vociferous boosters in union officialdom throughout the 2020 campaign!) in order to serve the public.

A federal power grab introduced in the 2019-20 Congress as H.R.3464/S.1970, and strongly endorsed by Biden, is expected to be reintroduced on Capitol Hill soon.  This scheme would, by federal fiat, foist union monopoly bargaining on state and local fire fighters and other public-sector workers in all 50 states.

If the cynically mislabeled “Public Service Freedom to Negotiate” Act becomes law, it will help top IAFF union dons who seem willing to steal from children afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy expand and consolidate their empire.