What’s the difference between a president who supports working families and their unions and one beholden to corporate and anti-worker interests? As President Obama has shown, there’s a lot, but last Friday the Obama administration did something the Bush administration would never have imagined doing.
The White House announced that Vice President Joe Biden and a delegation of top administration officials—including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis—will not cross a Fire Fighters (IAFF) picket line to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting scheduled to begin Friday in Providence, R.I.
Providence Mayor David Cicilline has waged a nearly seven-year campaign against the men and women of IAFF Local 799, refusing to bargain a fair contract, forcing the union into arbitration over each contract, and even going so far as to introduce anti-union ordinances and calling for similar state legislation.
Local 799—along with the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and several other unions—plans to picket the mayors’ conference when its gets underway to highlight Cicilline’s anti-worker actions and lack of a fair contract.
Says IAFF President Harold Schaitberger:
The administration deserves credit for its full support of our members in this fight. And by refusing to attend this high-profile conference, they have sent a strong message to the entire country—that unions and workers rights matter, too.
Providence Fire Fighters have fought a long battle with city officials who forced contract talks into arbitration for several years before Cicilline took office. He was propelled into office in 2002 with strong support from Local 799 after he promised to end years of stalemate and negotiate a fair contract. But the last contract expired in 2005, and the local has been forced back into binding arbitration each year.
Says Local 799 President Paul Doughty:
We tried to settle our differences with the mayor, but he continues to antagonize the hard-working firefighters of Local 799, so we will use this opportunity to shed light on the mayor’s epic mismanagement and his disdain for workers.
Along with the lack of a fair contract, Fire Fighters say Cicilline has sought to cut jobs, implemented “adverse and demeaning internal policies and conditions” and spent more than $1 million of taxpayer money on legal fees to fight the union.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters:
Because of the circumstances surrounding the conference, administration officials will not be participating in this year’s meeting….We have always respected picket lines, and administration officials will not cross this one.
The Obama administration’s action, says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney,
is an important statement in support of the firefighters, police and teachers who go to work every day in order to help others. In supporting them, and respecting the picket line, the Obama administration supports all working families in Providence