Day Three of the Legislative Conference
IAFF Goes to Congress
IAFF members set off to meet lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday. About 1,000 members from across the country are in Washington, DC to discuss the challenges that first responders face each day.
Fire fighters on Capitol Hill will talk about a range of issues with their elected officials including pensions, support for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grants, and mandatory Social Security coverage for fire fighters.
The IAFF has won significant legislative victories on Capitol Hill due largely to the relationships that local IAFF leaders have with their elected officials.
Wednesday’s visit is a good time to strengthen relationships with lawmakers and to discuss issues that impact IAFF members such as safety and job security.
March 15, 2011: Day Two of the Legislative Conference
Stop hurting the middle class
Washington Senator Patty Murray said Republicans are fiercely out of step with what Americans want today. “Middle class values are under attack,” she said.
“We absolutely have to cut spending and bring down the deficit – Democrats and Republicans all agree to that. It’s hard, but we have to do it responsibly and we can’t allow it to happen on the backs of middle class families.”
She said this highlights the difference of those who fight for Main Street and those who stand up for Wall Street.
She encouraged fire fighters to let lawmakers know they are the ones who stand up to fight for the things they know are right.
You can watch video of Murray's speech here.
An Insider’s View of Washington Politics
Veteran Washington journalist Howard Fineman gave fire fighters an insider’s view of what’s happening politically in the Beltway.
Fineman, a senior politics editor at the Huffington Post and former Newsweek editor, presented a masterful portrait of President Obama and newly elected GOP leadership. The journalist gave a sobering assessment of America’s future and the challenging discussions that will emerge on Social Security, Medicaid and health care. When it comes to politics, the Republican Party is using a well-tested divide and conquer strategy, he said.
The Republicans are operating on an “enemy wedge theory” that former White House chief of staff Karl Rove made famous in Texas two decades ago. The strategy turns key supporters of the opposition’s party into a “boogeyman” and setting them at war with other constituents.
“The Republican Party has decided the enemy is you particularly the unions, public employees and teachers. They are trying to make you take the blame for a wasteful government in efforts to divide the Democratic base,” he said.
What’s happening throughout Wisconsin is a good example, he said.
Fineman played political prognosticator for the 2012 presidential elections. He gave a run down on candidates and chances for securing their parties’ nomination. The journalist doesn’t expect anyone from President Obama’s political party to challenge him, he said.
General President Schaitberger turned the tables on the journalist asking his view on Wisconsin and how the newly galvanized labor movement could affect the 2012 campaign. Regrettably, Fineman said the anti-union wave will continue. He said it will take some time for the full consequences of policies to become obvious to the general public.
“Collective bargaining is something that all Americans respect,” he said. “If you don’t have some way to bargain for wages with employers then something is lost…. Things work when there is a balance between government, private sector, family and faith. When they aren’t in balance then we fail.”
Not Turning Back the Clock
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said America needs visionaries to lead it forward, instead of trying to turn back time.
"The onslaught of shock and awe that we see today it is not of that of the British Army, instead it is a narrow minded ideology that would put tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent ahead of public safety. You and I need to say that this is not the America we protect. We are better than that."
He urged fire fighters to stay united against newly elected Tea Party governors who say they want to take America back.
"Public safety employees deserve the same decency and respect like other employees in the world," he said.
The public is best served when labor, management, employers and employees are sitting at the table. O'Malley gave a shout out to the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland.
He also ended his speech on a call and response with fire fighters.
"So when they try to pull our seat from the table and push tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans instead of making jobs for fire fighters, do we lie down or stand up,"O'Malley asked.
Fire fighters shouted, "We stand up."
You can watch video of O'Malley's speech here.
Fighting for Your Rights
Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) praised fire fighters for being extraordinary public servants Tuesday.
"You are a members of an extraordinary profession," he said. "You are an extraordinary group of Americans and we are proud of you," he said. "How tragic it is that this extraordinary group of Americans is being denied an ordinary right to speak for yourself and bargain collectively."
Wisconsin is only a test bed for what's going to sweep across the country. Two different visions of America is emerging, he said. One is where the elite continue to be the elite and the other where people believe all people need to prosper in order for America to grow.
"If there is not a new level of activism in this country then the Walkers, the Kasichs and Christies will get whatever they want," said Andrews.
What happened in Wisconsin is challenging America's way of life.
"We need to say to all these people across the country that we believe we need to sit in a chair and negotiate and bargain for our rights. You believe we should go to our knees and beg for our rights," he said. "To those who suggest we need to beg for our rights. We will be standing on our feet fighting for our rights all across the country."
You can watch video of Andrews' speech here.
Robert Menendez feels safer with fire fighters
New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez says like most fire fighters he’s a big fan of the NFL.
If billionaire NFL owners can respect the collective bargaining rights of football players so can states, he told fire fighters to wild applause Tuesday.
“I feel a lot safer with you on the job than with Wallace or Kasich any day of the week,” Menendez said.
Both governors came into office promising they would create jobs, instead they are making policies threatening workers.
The assault on collective bargaining is not about balancing state budgets, but an effort to break unions and to win elections, Menendez said.
You can watch video of Menendez's speech here.
Getting Beyond Donkeys and Elephants
Representative Peter Roskam, (R-IL) encouraged fire fighters to look beyond political affiliation when it comes to pressing their case to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“This is an opportunity to reach out and build relationships with people on both side of the aisles,” he said.
He encouraged fire fighters to meet with all members of Congress and invite them to their fire stations to show them the important work they do each day.
He said members of Congress want to do the right thing by the American people and their districts.
“They might have an R at the end of their name but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to engage with you,” he said.
You can watch video of Roskam's speech here.
March 14, 2011: Day One of the Legislative Conference
On the Frontlines
Wisconsin and Ohio have put the battle over collective bargaining rights squarely in the spotlight this season.
Two state senators from each state discussed the context of the bills and what it means for public workers to move forward. Jon Erpenbach, one of the Wisconsin 14, got a heroe's welcome and he provided some comic relief Monday as he addressed fire fighters.
"We were all excited about the Packers too," he said to fire fighter applause. We got to celebrate that victory for two minutes before the governor introduced the bill."
Bill Seitz, a Ohio State Senator, appeared via Skype.
Erpenbach praised Wisconsin fire fighters for their support of public employee unions and rallying at the state capitol throughout the protests. Erpenbach described Gov. Scott Walker's and other Senate Repbulicans passing the bill as a "hostile corporate takeover."
He said the bill that was passed wasn't about fixing a budget, but union busting. He urged fire fighters to stand strong because what happened in Wisconsin is only the tip of the iceburg.
"There are a lot of Gov. Walkers out there. In the end it is not your fault that we are in the shape that we are in. We need to be able to fight this, even if it means we have to fight this state by state."
Seitz, a Republican lawmaker discussed SB5. He was removed from Senate committee for voicing his opposition to SB5. He described the bill as over-reaching.
"You know the old saying that you can't fight City Hall," he said. "Well, with this bill you can't even talk to City Hall." He described what happened in Ohio has a mockery.
You can watch video of Erpenbach's speech here. You can watch Seitz's speech here.
Standing tall with fire fighters
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin closed the morning session of the legislative conference. Machin said he holds a deep appreciation for fighters for having the courage to step in harm's way to save lives every day. He also thanked fire fighters for supporting his Senate campaign last year.
"The fire fighters were the first group to stand up and fight for me in my Senate race last year," he said. Manchin said as the fire fighters didn't forget about him, he will not forget about them.
He said partisan politics is dividing the country and used the state of Wisconsin as a prime example. "I've said the problem with Washington is that people put their political parties first and and personal politics second," said.
"That's got to stop."
He addressed Washington's troubles balancing the budget and the recent transformation of the Middle East.
You can watch video of Manchin's speech here.
Ed Schultz gets fire fighters fired up
Fire fighters love tv and radio host Ed Schultz who got a rousing ovation when he spoke Monday morning at the legislative conference.
"We will continue to tell the story of what's happening to middle class workers in America," he said. "What's going on in this country is morally wrong."
He said fire fighters are now on a larger mission to save the next generation and to help secure their financial futures.
Republicans will not support the middle class; and Democrats have not found their voice on the current labor crisis.
"So,you ask, who is in your corner? Who is really in your corner," Schultz asked fire fighters. "For the first time in 50 years, the answer is I don't know."
He praised fire fighters for standing alongside and supporting public employees in Wisconsin as they battled for their collective bargaining rights. And Schultz says, public employees will have to speak with one collective voice in order to fight the political opposition effectively.
"The right wingers can't take your heart and they can't take your soul. You can't allow this chamber to be ominously silent and allow every worker in America to feel like they aren't obligated. We've got to stand in the face of the opposition in order to move forward."
Democratic Minority Whip addresses Legislative Conference
Democratic Minority Whip of the House Steny Hoyer of Maryland praised the work of the IAFF and fire fighters at the legislative conference.
"You make a critical difference in our communities," he said. You do it because you have it in your hearts and courage in your belly to protect your communities."
Hoyer discussed the movement in the House by some newly elected officials to cut funding for fire fighter equipment and staffing for fire houses.
"I'm proud my party said no," he said. "I am proud to support the fire and SAFER programs because we know it makes fire departments better equipped to do their jobs. It not only helps you do your job better, but we are making sure you can do your job safer. It is our moral duty and responsibility to make sure you have the equipment that you need to work."
Scapegoating public employees isn't the answer, he said. The current attacks on the middle class are real. Hoyer said efforts by everyone needs to be redoubled in order to protect the future of the next generation.
You can watch video of Hoyer's speech here.