Philly’s Black police, fire groups call on members to stop paying dues over unions’ Trump endorsements

Crystal Williams-Coleman, president of the Guardian Civic League, condemns the Philadelphia FOP for ignoring the League's position, and endorsing President Donald Trump (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Groups backing Black police officers and firefighters blasted their majority-white unions for endorsing President Donald Trump on Friday.

The Philadelphia organizations called on all first responders — both locally and nationally — to withhold their union dues.

The Guardian Civic League (GCL), which represents 1,200 Black police officers in Philadelphia, and Club Valiants, a fraternity organization made up of about 400 city firefighters of color, say the local fire union and the national Fraternal Order of Police failed to properly survey their members before their endorsements and were disregarding the voices of their Black and Brown members.

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, a former president of the GCL and not speaking on behalf of her city office, said emergency workers across the country should not pay their union dues “until your voice can be heard before major decisions like this endorsement take place.”

“We’re not saying this is just a local issue, this is a national issue,” Bilal said while flanked by members of both groups in front of the GCL’s headquarters on the 1500 block of Girard Avenue.

When he announced the national FOP’s endorsement of Trump in September, FOP President Patrick Yoes said Trump “has our backs” and “understands the issues our members face every day.”

FOP members who refuse to pay their union dues risk losing membership to the FOP, said Rob Pride, national trustees chairman of the FOP.

“You have to pay your dues to get the benefits of membership,” Pride said.

FOP state offices endorse a candidate based on the majority of votes canvassed from local lodges, Pride said. Every state with an FOP lodge voted to endorse Trump.

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“That endorsement comes from the membership up to the executive board,” Pride said. “We don’t make that decision; our members do.”

While the national International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) endorsed Democratic nominee Joe Biden last year, Philadelphia IAFF Local 22 President Michael Bresnan recently endorsed Trump after canvassing a fraction of the union’s members.

Bresnan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Crystal Williams, president of the GCL and a retired Philadelphia police detective, condemned the national FOP for making the endorsement “without a fair and appropriate process,” saying local members did not weigh in — similar to the FOP’s endorsement of Trump in 2016.

“Our voices were ignored,” Williams said.

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She added: “We are tired of all the hate and division of this Trump administration.”

Last month the GCL’s political action committee endorsed Biden.

In the past, the Philadelphia branch of the FOP, Lodge 5, has followed the national office’s endorsement.

John Elam, a member of Club Valiants and a Fire Department lieutenant, said Bresnan’s endorsement has “deeply divided” the local union.

Elam called on Bresnan to rescind the endorsement and resurvey the local union before making an endorsement.

“We have a diverse membership that is not happy with the process,” Elam said.

The news conference marked the second for Club Valiants this month following Bresnan’s Trump endorsement. Firefighters protested the union’s endorsement last week outside the union’s headquarters.

Friday’s event came less than a week after Trump was expected to visit Philadelphia to thank IAFF Local 22 for its endorsement. But the presidential visit was called off after Trump contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Fire Department is approximately 60 percent white and 29 percent Black, while the Police Department is 55 percent white and 33 percent Black, according to the city’s most recent diversity report for 2018.

State Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, also backed the GCL and Club Valiants, saying Trump has failed to support first responders.

“Thank you for standing up for all the Black and brown folks who are members of law enforcement or who are first responders,” Street said outside the GCI headquarters, “who don’t see themselves in an administration that constantly embraces white supremacists.”

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared