Fanning the flames of union democracy
February 23, 2021 3:13 PM   Subscribe

The heat is on in the election for the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Veteran opponent of Scott Walker's anti-public sector union efforts, Black progressive, and Bernie Sanders delegate Mahlon Mitchell has lit a match under favored Edward Kelly, white and traditionalist union leader, and veteran of the Air Force and national fire department deployment to the World Trade Center. To a degree, this election conflict is fueled by GOP vs Democratic conflicts, as Kelly, in his current role of Secretary Treasurer of the union, hired on Matt Golsteyn as his chief of operations. Golsteyn is better known as an admitted war criminal who was pardoned by Trump. Kelly's choice to shed light on long-smouldering rumors of multi-decade IAFF president Schaitberger's financial abuses, sparked this rare opening for new leadership, but under hazy circumstances that suggest collusion with conservative, anti-union forces.
posted by latkes (5 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Let's hope the IAFF can avoid what has happened to our police forces.
posted by Windopaene at 3:23 PM on February 23

Thanks for this fascinating series of articles. I'm always amazed at the size and influence of some of these organizations (interesting that the IAFF is described in one of the articles as a "small union" of 300, 000 members). There are few non-profits or other movements who can match this reach, and if unions start operating as more consistently progressive forces, they could make a huge difference.

That's a big "if," though.
posted by rpfields at 7:11 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]

Mahlon Mitchell, it ought to be said, came in second in a hotly contested Democratic primary for the Wisconsin governor's race in 2018, beating out several more seasoned candidates. And he was Tom Barrett's running mate in the unsuccessful recall election against Scott Walker in 2012. So he's no stranger to running for things.
posted by escabeche at 9:06 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]

In case anyone was, like me, wondering why it was two Americans running for leadership of the International Association of Fire Fighters, it's "international" in the same way as the "World" Series.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) is a labor union representing paid full-time firefighters and emergency medical services personnel in the United States and Canada.

posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:01 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]

To be fair, fire/EMS in North America is still pretty different than most of the world. We’re all still very aggressive and the building construction in NA is very, very, very different than parts of the wold with centuries-old buildings, infrastructure, etc requiring different strategies and tactics.

The IAFF is not really “liberal” or “conservative;” they’re pro-labor. So most of the functions at the IAFF at the national level are protecting firefighters from abuses of power/working on fair pay and compensation, and working for cancer and other protective bills that keep local governments (and sometimes the feds) from hanging firefighters out to dry when it comes from health hazards and occasionally unfair practices/discrimination.

The locals are a little different, and are much more politically motivated. Most of the fire service skews...idk...libertarian? in my experience. It’s some weird cognitive dissonance. Because we want to help people! But it’s still very white male and all of the issues that come with that. We are, for the most part, usually different than the people drawn to law enforcement, but there is some overlap (especially in “public safety” departments).

As a member of the IAFF off and on for the past 14 years, I would posit that the LAST thing we need is representation that skews conservative, even if most firefighters personally identify as such. In most parts of the country we are overworked and underpaid, with 30 years at a physically and emotionally straining job (high divorce rate, high suicide rate, substance abuse issues, sleep issues, cardiac...the list goes on).

But with all unions, it can be difficult to find qualified, motivated people who aren’t interested in abusing the power than comes with the position and influence.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 9:09 AM on February 25 [6 favorites]

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