On September 11, 2001, 2,977 people were killed by terrorists. The terrorists were indiscriminate in their slaughter of lives—while the attacks were an attack on America, the terrorists did not care whether those they killed were exclusively American or not, nor did they care whether or not the victims were carrying a union card.
In New York, there were first responders killed on September 11th, 343 of them from the FDNY, many of them who happened to be members of a union, the IAFF.
To most Americans, it is the bravery and heroism of those first responders, including the 343 from the FDNY, that is remembered with honor—along with the tragedy of all those who perished—regardless of their union membership.
Yet, in Racine, Wisconsin, the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 321 has made this Independence Day more about union loyalties than America when they voted to refuse support of a float built to honor the public safety workers killed on September 11th in Racine’s Independence Day Parade . Why?
The IAFF is apparently not supporting the 9/11 memorial float for the very simple reason that Lt. Matt Gorniak, the firefighter who (along with his colleagues at the Oak Creek Fire Department) built the float in 2002, dropped his IAFF membership earlier this year.
With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks coming up later this year, Gorniak and his church’s youth group decided to revive the float in Racine’s upcoming Independence Day parade, one of the biggest in the area.
Unexpectedly, the request set off a debate among the leaders of the Racine firefighters union.
The problem: Gorniak had recently invoked a little-used provision in his union contract and opted out of membership in the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin.
Members of the executive board of the Racine firefighters union ultimately decided not to support or march with his float.
This week, the head of the union declined to discuss the decision.
“I really don’t have much of a comment on that,” said Craig Ford, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 321.
Other union leaders were also tight-lipped.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to make a comment,” said Mike DeGarmo, the union treasurer.
One Racine firefighter is disgusted by the union leadership’s decision.
Many others are also upset, according to Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel:
Dozens of firefighters, emergency workers and veterans contacted the Journal Sentinel to say they wanted to march with Gorniak in the Fourth of July parade.
“This should not be about politics, union issues or anything else except what it represents – those who gave their lives in service to our country and the people that they serve,” said Timothy S. McCormick, a retired Air Force noncommissioned officer who spent the day rounding up support for Gorniak and the float.
Once upon a time, union leaders believed in something called ‘voluntarism‘—that workers should be free to choose (or not choose) unions without compulsion.
While the IAFF certainly has the right not to support a float honoring the fallen heroes, it does say a lot about the union’s leadership.
On September 11, 2001, 2,977 Americans died. Some of them were union members, many others were not.
This begs the question: If a non-union firefighter perishes saving others, does it make him any less of a hero?
The 343 from FDNY were heroes—but it was not because of their union cards. Unfortunately, the IAFF leaders in Wisconsin don’t seem to understand that.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times in Wisconsin, but it seems the IAFF’s priorities have become “union first, American second.”
“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776