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April 26, 2016

Firefighters Respond to Tribune Editorial

When the Chicago Tribune printed another one of its ferociously anti-union editorials on April 8, 2016, it decided to target the Fire Fighters union (rather than its usual target—AFSCME!). Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois President Pat Devaney responded to the editorial’s many misstatements but the Tribune never printed his response. We reprint it here as a powerful reminder of why collective bargaining rights are important to every employee.


Is Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner anti-union or pro-taxpayer?

Unpublished letter to the Chicago Tribune from Pat Devaney, President of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois

Efforts to strip working men and women of collective bargaining rights for living wages are usually highlighted by cherry-picked anecdotes to cloud the truth.

Such was your recent editorial about Governor Rauner's crusade to destroy organized labor's rights to collective bargaining. (April 8: Is Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner anti-union or pro-taxpayer?)

Your editorial specifically advocates the elimination of firefighter staffing standards that have been in effect in Illinois since 1986. Staffing levels, according to standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, are critical to public safety.

What your editorial conveniently ignores is that Illinois firefighters in 1986 agreed to forfeit their right to strike in exchange for the law that requires municipalities to negotiate safe staffing levels for fire departments. Your editorial intimated current law was some sort of gift from Springfield when, in fact, it is a law that guarantees citizens the protection they need in times of emergency response.

Today's anti-worker sentiment emphasizes money over public safety. Unfortunately, it's the same sort of argument that Michigan politicians used to destroy its public water system in Flint. Fact is, there are more important matters than money.

Your editorial highlighted a 2009 incident involving the death of a Rockford man at the hands of a police officer. According to your reasoning, this is the poster child for the abolishment of arbitration in police and fire disciplinary cases.

You then transition into your crusade against firefighting staffing laws. So let's use your method to highlight a specific reason that firefighters negotiate safe staffing levels.

On March 28, 2010 Homewood firefighter Brian Carey died in a fire rescue attempt of an elderly resident, who also perished. Carey was first on the scene of a roaring house fire and attempted to rescue an elderly man trapped inside. Although woefully short­staffed, he entered the structure without hesitation.

After an exhaustive investigation into the fatalities, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health blamed under-staffing during the fire response as a factor in Mr. Carey's death.

Professional first responders rely on industry standards and statistics to determine how best to protect the citizens we serve. And staff levels are critical to public safety, not to mention the safety of firefighters who risk their own welfare in emergencies.

The Tribune performs a serious disservice to its readers when you hide the purpose behind public safety laws. There's more to public service than money. You are entitled to your opinion about the appropriate function and operation of government.

But don't ignore the public's sacred right to safety when you advocate for the Governor's misguided proposals.

Thank you,

Pat Devaney, President
Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois