In Philly, firefighters seek union prez’s resignation over Trump endorsement

Capt. Lisa Forrest, speaking recently on a panel about the challenges facing women in public service, helped draft the petition calling for Bresnan's resignation (Philadelphia Fire Department photo via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Jamyra Perry

PHILADELPHIA — Members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 22 are calling for Union President Mike Bresnan’s resignation.

Union member Lt. Willaim Tung helped draft the petition to have the leader removed.

“It goes back to the endorsement of President [Donald] Trump,” Tung said. “You know, I feel like Bresnan and the executive board violated our trust and they unilaterally made that endorsement without informing its membership of Local 22 at all.”

He said the union leadership has failed to listen to its members, time and time again.

“We tried to show up to the scheduled membership meeting for the union but they shut it down, they closed us out, without basically hearing from any of us. I personally felt like we reached the end of our rope here. We tried to voice our concerns in the avenue that was open to us and basically they’d been shutting us out in every corner. Unfortunately, we felt like, we had to kind of put this petition out there,” Tung said.

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Former IAFF Union President Joe Schulle helped draft local bylaws to avoid a situation like what’s going on between Bresnan and the union membership. He said he’s never seen anything like this in his 20 plus years with the union.

“One of the first things I did in 2013 when I became a union president, was to write and have endorsed by the membership bylaws for our political action committee on how the endorsement process needed to go to ensure transparency and ensure that our members get a chance to speak on an endorsement. I wanted to make sure they not only had a chance to speak on it but also debate it, prior to the executive board making any endorsement,” Schulle said.

The Battalion Chief said the bylaws were voted on by members and should be taken seriously.

“These rules that are in place are not guidelines. They’re rules that were passed by the membership, which make them the rules of law for our union on how you have to endorse candidates. The current president is flouting those bylaws,” he said.

Lisa Forrest, president of Club Valiants, the fraternal organization established to ensure equality among the minority firefighters, said the next logical step was to ask for Bresnan’s resignation.

“He continues to violate the constitution and bylaws of local 22, even in his latest spin of sending out this secret mail-in ballot, which is also a violation of bylaws. All we want is for them to take the endorsement off the table. This is becoming more than it has to be,” the newly minted Batallion Chief said.

She said the last-minute cancellation of the October meeting was a slap in the face.

“They are pretty much saying we’re in leadership, and this is how we’re handling stuff so deal with it. They want to try to use COVID as an excuse as to why they didn’t have the meeting when just a month before, there wasn’t a problem with having an in-person meeting in September,” Forrest said.

She said big changes need to be made to help heal the division within the union.

“The first step is Bresnan has to go and then we’ll take it from there. We need to try and mend the fences. We want to be in a union, but we want to be in a union that is representative of all of us. You have not one person of any minority that sits on the board of the Union, not one. And I’m not just talking about Blacks, there are no Latinos, there are no Asians, and there are no women. How can you really empathize with how we feel if you don’t have a voice there that can tell you what needs to change,” Forrest said.

Tung said the actions of Local 22’s leadership should serve as a rallying cry for its membership.

“I believe that hopefully, this will inspire a whole new generation of people to kind of show up, attend and become active in the way our union operates. I feel like we’ve kind of just let it work by itself. People have been kind of ignoring it and I think this is the beginning of a big change,” he said.

Jamyra Perry is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared