Firefighters Flex Their Political Firepower

Schaitberger's letter Friday to IAFF's local affiliates is just the beginning of the union's effort to counter Giuliani, the Republican who has emerged as the front-runner for the GOP's 2008 presidential nomination.

Schaitberger says, however, that he has not tried to involve any other emergency-related organizations in the effort to oppose Giuliani.

"It's up to them," he said, based on "whatever their own individual experiences and opinions are."

The Wednesday participant with the shoddiest record on issues of concern to firefighters, according to the IAFF, is Jim Gilmore, the former Virginia governor who is running for the GOP's presidential nomination.

"His record, quite frankly, was mixed," Schaitberger said. "We would take issue with a number of his positions. He certainly did not support the right for our firefighters to have organizing recognition" and "bargaining rights."

Schaitberger is committed, however, to giving Gilmore a chance to make his case.

Two other Republicans speaking Wednesday -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. -- have also opposed collective bargaining rights as members of the U.S. Senate, according to Schaitberger.

"They have not signed on to that measure in the past," Schaitberger said, "and did not support the cloture vote that was before them in 2002."

Despite their differences over collective bargaining rights, Schaitberger was quick to praise McCain and Hagel, who are both Vietnam vets, for their service to the country.

Schaitberger also praised McCain for supporting firefighters in "several of the fire service programs and the fire grant programs," and Schaitberger credited him with "taking on," at times, the Bush administration, which Schaitberger described as "pretty consistently" trying to "undercut or underfund" infrastructure programs.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who is a Vietnam veteran, stands out from the other Republicans speaking at Wednesday's forum in that he has been "pro-collective bargaining" despite an otherwise "very conservative" record, according to Schaitberger. He also has been "very supportive" of federal firefighters on military bases.

Schaitberger singled out several Democrats for praise, as well.

"There are a number of them," he said, "who have really shown over time … their understanding of what our industry needs."

Schaitberger praised Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut for authoring the FIRE Act, which gives fire departments the ability to purchase new equipment and initiate education and training programs, as well as the SAFER Act, which gives fire departments the ability to alleviate critical shortfalls in professional and volunteer personnel.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico was praised by Schaitberger not only for his "extraordinary track record" when he served in the U.S. House of Representatives but also for "making sure that firefighters had collective bargaining rights" in New Mexico when he became governor.

In her capacity representing the Empire State, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., met with Schaitberger on the morning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he praised her for helping to "cut through the bureaucracy" and for her continuing efforts on behalf of firefighters.

Schaitberger said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., had a "very strong connection with our profession over a long period of time." In a highly personal address to the IAFF in 2006, Biden thanked firefighters for saving his life and his home.

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