IAFF Endorses Senator Obama

August 14, 2008 -- The IAFF announced its endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for president, praising the Illinois senator for his support of fire fighters and working families. Watch video...Download video...

“On every issue important to fire fighters Senator Obama is and has been in our corner,” IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger said. “The IAFF is the most bipartisan union in the AFL-CIO, and we support those who support us. We can’t overlook Senator McCain’s service to our country, but we also can’t overlook his poor record on issues critical to the financial security of our 290,000 members.”

The IAFF endorsed Senator Obama on the final day of its 49th Convention in Las Vegas.

Senator Obama co-sponsored and voted for the IAFF’s collective bargaining bill in the U.S. Senate this year. Senator John McCain voted against the IAFF’s collective bargaining bill in 2001, and this year he refused to return to Washington, DC, for a cloture vote.

In his message, Senator Obama expressed his support of collective bargaining rights for fire fighters and for scores of other issues important to fire fighters.

Collective bargaining rights “won’t become law unless we have a president who’s willing to sign it, and I’ll be that president. It is unacceptable when fire fighters do not have collective bargaining rights. But it’s not just collective bargaining. For too long on too many issues, fire fighters have not been treated with the dignity, respect and honor you deserve,” Senator Obama said.

Senator Joe Biden addressed fire fighters on Senator Obama’s behalf, urging fire fighters to support his friend in the Senate.

Senator Biden delivered a rousing speech.

“Barack Obama will be the best friend fire fighters have ever had in the White House,” Biden said. “He comes from your ethic. He understands the middle class is shrinking and that you are the middle class. He understands that labor is the reason there is a middle class. Barack Obama respects you. You say ‘what the hell? Everybody respects us.’ Wrong.”

Biden also delivered a scathing indictment of the Bush administration, condemned the administration for not supporting fire fighters and said Senator McCain embraces the same policies as the Bush administration.

“Don’t tell me this administration respects you. Don’t tell me Barack Obama’s opponent respects you. Don’t take away my collective bargaining rights and tell me you respect me. Don’t tell me you respect me,” Biden screamed.

Obama has been there for fire fighters, Biden said – on Social Security issues, interoperable communications, funding for fire fighters and funding for more resources.

“We’ve fought and succeeded (to keep you out of Social Security). We’ve done it together. In every instance, Barack Obama has voted with us. You guys have always been with me. You stuck with me. I’m here to tell you that Barack Obama will stick with you,” Biden said.

Since Senator Chris Dodd dropped out of the race for president in January, the IAFF has spent months discussing its next step while allowing the political process to play out.

“Once Senator Dodd stepped aside, we needed to talk to our members, gauge the candidates and examine their positions on the issues critical to fire fighters. Senator Obama has shown fire fighters nothing but support – in the Illinois state senate and in the U.S. Senate,” Schaitberger said.

In addition to collective bargaining rights, the economy emerged as a key concern among fire fighters, according to a poll conducted in June of IAFF members by Zogby. The poll also found fire fighters believe Senator Obama will be a more effective president on economic issues for working people like them, by a margin of 63 percent to 23 percent.

Senator Obama also supports the right of fire fighters to collect overtime pay, a right established by the Fair Labor Standards Act, while Senator McCain has indicated he favors appointing judges to the federal bench who may overturn court decisions that guarantee overtime pay to fire fighters and other rights outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Senator McCain’s opposition to collective bargaining for fire fighters was negatively received by 74 percent of fire fighters, according to the Zogby poll, and his vow to appoint judges who would overturn court decisions that ensure overtime pay was viewed negatively by 71 percent of fire fighters.

Senator Obama opposes forcing fire fighters into Social Security and wants to strengthen the system of employer-provided health care that fire fighters earn.

Senator McCain’s health care plan encourages elimination of employer-sponsored health care, preferring to place the burden on individuals to find and purchase their own health care. Employees who do continue to get health care coverage through their employers would have to pay taxes on those benefits. McCain has refused to sign a letter opposing mandatory Social Security coverage for fire fighters, a change that would impose an additional payroll tax on first responders.

Senator Obama has also worked to increase funding for the SAFER grant program, which provides funding to local jurisdictions to hire fire fighters. Senator McCain has sided with the Bush administration in its attempts to zero out that program.

The IAFF also launched its Obama web site, which has information about the candidates’ policy positions on issues critical to fire fighters.

International Association of Fire Fighters
1750 New York Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20006 • 202.737.8484 • 202.737.8418 (Fax)
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