Brothers and Sisters,
For the last 20 years as your General President, I have been blessed with the greatest job one could have, proudly representing our members – now more than 320,000 professional fire fighters and EMS personnel across two countries who make up our great union, the International Association of Fire Fighters.
I am truly humbled by and proud of what we have built together. From launching our union’s political operation in the 1970s to building it into the powerful gold and black endorsement that is sought by everyone running for office at all levels.
We’ve been innovative, addressing the behavioral health needs of our members by opening our own IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery and creating and deploying a Peer Support Training program that has taught thousands of our members to know what to look for and how to help their brothers and sisters who may be struggling with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. And there’s so much more.
Literally, we have built a union that does things no other union can do, and while we still have so much more to accomplish, the path to becoming one of the strongest, boldest unions in the labor movement hasn’t been easy.
We have had our struggles. We endured a tough financial stretch in the early 1980s that almost broke us; we fought to protect our members during the 2008-2009 great recession; and today we continue to lead the way on critical issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. And we are stronger for it.
Internally, we have had many disagreements along the way, but there was never any personal hatred that sprung from it. Everyone involved acted professionally and responsibly, regardless of his or her point of view. We were all united in one thing – advancing this union on behalf of our members to the next level.
Nowadays, we live in a 21st century, 24-hour, seven-days a week environment where social media, the internet and extremist views dominate the day. It’s a world where you don’t need the truth to personally attack someone; you just need an internet connection.
Over the years, I have been the target of many personal attacks. To be honest, I’ve accepted that it comes with the territory. I get it. But I have always tried to take the high road and refrain from responding because our focus should always be our union and our membership, knowing that any effort spent answering the smears and drivel is time away from advancing your interests.
However, in recent weeks, our union, your Executive Board and I as your General president, have been hit with new, reckless and destructive attacks designed to rip at the very fabric of what we have built. These attacks are based on the inappropriate and unauthorized distribution of selective internal, privileged documents.
Many have pushed me to release the internal documents that refute the attacks, but doing so would be just as inappropriate as what the attackers have done.
Most importantly, our Executive Board has set up several internal processes to review issues, evaluate facts, determine the truth and to take any corrective actions necessary that may come from their deliberations about a number of issues. The Executive Board has committed to report out their findings and actions.
That process will ensure that the integrity of our union is protected and our members can continue to be confident that their IAFF is operating at the highest levels. And I am committed to that process.
Sadly, there will likely be more smear attempts against me, our current Executive Board and those who have served our union in the past. However, to give them any credence works against this union’s work that our members depend on.
In this historic moment, we need to stay dedicated and committed to our mission ensuring our members’ safety as they respond on the frontlines to a health crisis not seen in many lifetimes.
I’m going to keep my focus and efforts, as I know our incredible Executive Board and staff are doing, totally devoted to the best our two countries have to offer, the men and women of the IAFF.
And during these turbulent times… God bless all of you and be safe out there.
Harold A. Schaitberger