Firefighters, Cops Warn Republicans Anti-Union Stance Has Consequences

WASHINGTON -- Leaders from two unions known to support the Republican Party warned of serious repercussions for GOP candidates in the 2012 elections, saying the onslaught of anti-labor bills in state capitals has shifted their political allegiances.

“Our political principles are pretty straightforward. We’ll support those that support us,” Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told HuffPost. “We tend to stick with those who stick with us.”

“There is a distinct possibility that the pro-labor candidate in the next election will be looked at much more favorably than their overall record,” Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told HuffPost. “The vast majority of our membership will put other issues aside.”

The inclusion of police and fire unions in an Ohio bill that stripped collective bargaining rights from public employees may have been the last straw for the two conservative-leaning groups. But even in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s actions exempted them, cops and fire fighters marched shoulder to shoulder with teachers and other public workers.

Now, the public safety unions are signaling what could be a tectonic shift in the political landscape, one that could result in a level of labor solidarity missing for recent elections.

“I don’t want to say we are unhappy with Republicans but we are very unhappy with the far-right wing of the party that seems to have taken the Republican Party hostage,” said Canterbury, whose union endorsed George W. Bush and John McCain in the last three presidential elections. “We are extremely unhappy with the snowball that rolled in in Ohio and we are traditionally a very conservative organization. We’ve been bipartisan.....But with the actions that have taken place, there’s going to be tremendous reprisals taken out at the polls” by police and their families.”They feel like their public officials turned their back on them.”

The FOP political action committee gave less than $30,000 in 2010, most of it evenly distributed between Republicans and Democrats. But Canterbury expects his union will spend significantly more money in 2012 elections and recall and referendum votes in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states where labor is being asked to shoulder the brunt of budget deficits.

“Nobody will get money from us who don’t openly support us,” the police union chief said.

Schaitberger, whose firefighters union wields significantly more clout, said his union would also be spending more in support of Democratic candidates. During the 2010 elections, the union gave $2.7 million in political contributions, with about 82% of its money going to Democrats and the rest to GOP candidates.

“In 2012, it going to change,” he said. “Our members are furious.... We will be putting our money where our mouth is.”

Schaitberger said GOP governors and legislators across the country were attacking union rights, even though the media has largely focused on events in Wisconsin and Ohio. “This is clearly a GOP right-wing coordinated attack on workers,” he said. “Their goal is to kill our union and cripple us in the political arena.”

He is perhaps most concerned about New Hampshire, not coincidentally host of the first presidential primary. Republicans there have a veto-proof majority in the legislature and are pushing a bill that may be “the most draconian of any of the anti-worker, anti-collective bargaining attacks,” he said.

The legislation would turn public employees who fail to reach a contract agreement into “at will workers” who could be fired at any time and would not have the right to negotiate wages, working hours and working conditions.

Schaitberger said that legislation is the kind of overreach that has galvanized his members and will have “significant blowback” at the polls.

“There has been a very significant shift when you look at the Republican attacks we see in the states,” the fire union boss said. “They are going to be in our cross hairs and our members will politically respond accordingly.”

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