According to an MSNBC story, the firefighters do not represent a small loss.
The firefighter's union, with nearly 300,000 members, is among the most influential and biggest-spending lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. It is also among the most sought-after endorsements for both Democrats and Republicans.
During the 2010 mid-term elections, the union spent nearly $15 million on behalf of federal candidates, including nearly $2.4 million in direct contributions. Its political action committee, known as FIREPAC, was ranked 10th out of more than 7,100 such committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
At this point it has become so obvious that Democrats have allowed the Republicans to control the national debate with Unions receiving little and losing much. Besides asking "Where are the congressional delegations en masse standing up and fighting with us?" Mr. Schaitberger is looking back at the time when the Democrats took over the White House and both Houses of Congress.
Schaitberger said he is equally discouraged that pro-union legislation has been bottled up in Congress. Efforts to pass a "card check" bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions went nowhere even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Last year, Senate Republicans blocked a measure that would have granted police officers and firefighters the right to collectively bargain over wages, hours and working conditions.
And other measures have disappointed him, like the lack of money for more emergency response training and equipment for airport fire departments and wilderness firefighting.
"This is a pattern of disappointment," he said. "They have not fulfilled the obligation that friends should have to fight and stand with us and to fight hard on our behalf."
Harold A. Schaitberger was on the Rachel Maddow Show last night.
MADDOW: Why suspend federal campaign donations now? That‘s something that your union has felt was important enough to devote significant resources to in the past.
SCHAITBERGER: Well, there‘s two reasons. First of all, since the last midterm elections, last November, the assaults on our members, firefighters, paramedics, public workers, and our unions have simply changed the landscape. These assaults that have gone to the heart of stripping away workers‘ rights, collective bargaining rights, they have enjoyed for decades, trying to gag them and silence their political voice, to take us out of the political arena. They try to literally cripple our ability to operate as a union, to represent the rights and the interests of our members.
All of these attacks—coordinated, orchestrated—by the extreme right wing conservatives, has not seen our friends willing to stand up with the same kind of commitment, the same kind of focus, and the same kind of effort, to say we‘re going to fight back on your behalf with you.
I need to see the members of Congress that are our friends, I need to see them loud and clear, step up and step out, and be willing to battle those that have shown that they are willing to be so committed and so focused in their attempt to simply destroy us.
Second, it‘s a pattern of disappointments. You know, Rachel, over this last Congress and over time, our friends simply have not found a way to actually deliver on behalf of workers and the middle class, and certainly my members, firefighters and paramedics. And until we see some results, until we see them willing to really stand with us and fight with us, fight on our behalf with us, then we are simply freezing our—turning the spigot off and we are redirecting our resources and efforts out to the various states where we are fighting these fights.
MADDOW: In terms of the fights in the states which you started there, describing about—describing how in various states around the country and it‘s more than a dozen states where this is happening, collective bargaining rights are under attack, that is a foundational, existential issue for you, how could Democrats at the federal level help with that? How could they help with attacks on your union and others that are happening at the state level?
SCHAITBERGER: They have extraordinary influence in their states, in their congressional districts. Every congressional district, and certainly every state, United States senator, has delegate districts from the very statehouses, and state Senate districts. They could at least come together. They could step out. They could try to influence the decision makers at the state level.
They could make it clear what‘s at stake. And they could be willing to fight on our behalf. And if we saw that kind of effort, whether or not they have the literal ability to cast a vote, they certainly have an ability to show that they are with us. And in our business, we say, I‘ve got your back, well, then you should have my back. And we don‘t feel they have our back.
Then he was asked about the recent House in Massachusetts where a Democratic majority voted to strip some union rights there, the story that was written up here as Betrayal in Massachusetts.
SCHAITBERGER: Quite frankly, it‘s unbelievable. I just attended a legislators‘ night a few weeks ago for all of my members across Massachusetts, where we had all of the state and House leaders coming to tell them how much they cared for them, how much they supported them, they celebrated them, they honored them. They told them how much they admired their work in their community.
And now, today, we‘re seeing that the Democratic House of Representatives in Massachusetts is stripping away collective bargaining rights. Whether it be for health care or any issue, it‘s unbelievable, but it‘s also symptomatic. And it‘s symptomatic of we‘re not going to be taken for granted and we‘re not going to be made to feel like we have no other place to go. Because the fact of the matter we believe in accountability.
And whether you‘re in the statehouse of Massachusetts or whether you‘re a member of Congress, we‘re going to hold you accountable. And accountability comes with consequences.
Other Union leaders are not likely to follow the firefighters. After unions spent more than $200 million on behalf of Democratic candidates in the 2010 midterm elections, Union officials at the top "have complained privately about President Obama for his support of trade deals and for not doing more to enact pro-union legislation or block large budget cuts." But publicly Richard Trumka and others are still waiting for Democrats to come around and pleading with membership to Democrats even though there is little evidence left to support the claim that Democrats are the only answer to the Republican agenda. Not with Republicans continuing to own the agenda.
This new union leadership message will be heard loud and clear by workers but will the leaders of the Democratic Party listen? Well elected Democrats and Barack Obama have an option. If Mr. Schaitberger sees Democrats taking a stand than he will call for coming back to the Democrats. If not than workers from all Unions will see this as a chance and begin pressuring their leadership to join Mr. Schaitberger. Even if we the workers fail, the Democrats will be coming up very short in American Union workers who are willing to volunteer and do the leg work in 2012. Perhaps we will even stay home on Election Day.
Either way, something finally sounds like a fighting chance.