Firefighters’ Union Dons’ Sweet Deal — Show up at Work, Collect Extra ‘Living Expense’ Money From Forced-Dues Payers
There is no doubt, as New York Times labor reporter Noam Scheiber said at the outset of a long and mostly unflattering article last weekend profiling Harold Schaitberger, the general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters union, that the AFL-CIO-affiliated IAFF wields an extraordinary amount of “political influence” for an organization with just under 300,000 members.
The question Mr. Scheiber’s account raises (see the link below to read the whole thing) is: Does all the clout Mr. Schaitberger and his cohorts in the IAFF union hierarchy have amassed actually advance the interests of rank-and-file fire fighters, or of taxpaying citizens who depend on their services?
What Mr. Scheiber demonstrates without a doubt is that Mr. Schaitberger has no qualms about personally making and allowing lavish expenditures of union treasury money, which consists mostly of dues and fees that fire fighters are forced to pay, or be fired from their jobs, simply in order to increase his “influence over the union”:
At a time when management gurus and the paragons of corporate leadership talk up the benefits of flattening hierarchies and pulling back curtains, Mr. Schaitberger seems like a throwback. He is a one-man case study in how to consolidate power in the executive suite through deft use of his organization’s funds, which he has managed to dispense to allies and rivals alike with little oversight or checks.
Eric Lamar, a former firefighter and top aide to Mr. Schaitberger who now writes a blog critical of him, summed up Mr. Schaitberger’s management approach this way: “He will bully when he can, and buy support when he can’t.”
And perhaps the most outrageous way in which Harold Schaitberger has authorized expenditures of fire fighters’ forced-dues money to consolidate his control over the IAFF is through the union’s bizarre and unconscionable policy for doling out so-called “per diems” to its officials.
As many readers undoubtedly recall from their personal experience, “per diem” allocations are a means employers use to compensate employees for their dining, hotel and other expenses when their work requires them to travel out of town. But IAFF officials “can claim up to $80 a day to cover meals and other unreimbursed expenses whenever performing duties ‘outside their regular domicile'”:
According to documents obtained by The Times from one current and one former I.A.F.F. official, vice presidents routinely request and receive the per diems three, four, even five days a week regardless of whether they are on the road, effectively increasing their salaries by thousands of dollars each year. “From Schaitberger’s point of view, if that’s all it takes to keep them happy, he could care less,” said Mr. Lamar, the former aide turned critic. “That’s no skin off his back.”
In the 2014 fiscal year, four vice presidents received at least $18,000 in per diem payments and seven more received at least $11,000. An analysis of the paperwork they submitted shows that several of them received the full $80 on dozens of days — in some cases well over 100 — in which they reported that they remained in their city of residence.
When questioned by Mr. Scheiber about this flagrant abuse of fire fighters’ forced dues and fees, Mr. Schaitberger claimed per diems for any union boss who has “left his house” are permitted under IAFF union policy, even though a Labor Department official who performed a review of the expense policies of the union in 2009 reached the opposite conclusion. Of course, enabling his lieutenants to rip off the rank and file by collecting phony “per diems” and in an array of other ways has helped Mr. Schaitberger consolidate his power to such a degree that he has “enormous leeway in running the union.”
And today Mr. Schaitberger would have millions and millions of additional dollars in coerced dues money from fire fighters if the hierarchy’s top priority in the 2009-2010 Congress, the so-called “Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act” (S.3991), had been adopted.
S.3991, sponsored by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), would have denied localities in all 50 states the option to refuse to grant a single public-safety union the power to speak for all front-line employees, including those who don’t want to join, in discussions with their employer regarding pay, benefits, and other working conditions.
Monopoly bargaining, euphemistically labeled as “exclusive representation,” would have been foisted on fire fighters, police, and other public-safety employees nationwide. And in most states that already authorize public-safety monopoly bargaining, S.3991 would have widened its scope.
But despite enjoying the enthusiastic support of the Obama White House, the then-Democrat majority caucuses in both chambers of Congress, and half-a-dozen GOP senators who were sponsors of another virtually identical measure, S.3991 never became law.
The primary reason for the scheme’s failure was the persistent and passionate opposition of well-mobilized National Right to Work Committee members, who time and again flooded Capitol Hill with letters, postcards, petitions, e-mails, faxes and phone calls calling on Congress not to federalize public-safety union monopoly bargaining.
Although even the normally union boss-friendly Washington Post acknowledged that the Reid bill would “further empower an already strong lobby,” hamstringing states’ and localities’ ability to manage their workforces at a time when “state flexibility is probably more necessary than ever,” the Committee had to fight this battle with few active allies. Of course, several organizations representing the interests of local governments and public-safety departments, such as the National Sheriffs’ Association, joined with the Committee in lobbying against the forced-unionism sneak play.
When the 2009-2010 Congress finally adjourned without okaying his #1 legislative objective, Mr. Schaitberger lamented, “There is no way to sugar coat the significance of this loss.” What last week’s Times article underscores is the enormous service Committee members performed for countless thousands of independent-minded fire fighters in multiple states who remain free of IAFF monopoly control today as a consequence of the defeat of S.3991 nearly five years ago.