It is nearly impossible for ten people to agree on anything. Yet the executive board of Local 825, the New Haven firefighters’ union, voted unanimously two years ago to leave our statewide union, the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut (UPFFA), yet remain members of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).
Local 825 has a rich history of advocating for its members and prioritizing the safety of the community we serve. In the two years since that unanimous vote, however, the UPFFA has refused to honor our decision to leave. Instead, it utilized bully tactics and continued demanding thousands of dollars in dues payments that we do not owe.
As president of Local 825, I was there in 2016 when our executive board voted to leave the UPFFA. We needed to put our financial house in order and UPFFA membership was an expensive and unnecessary line item. Simply put, we did not find value in the services they claimed to provide, and were unhappy with the direction and leadership of the UPFFA.
Furthermore, New Haven firefighters do not engage in partisan politics when it comes to legislation. We believe public safety transcends politics. We do not believe the UPFFA shares this philosophy, and that it makes them less effective.
Instead of honoring our firefighters’ choice to cut ties, the UPFFA continued demanding payment of membership dues, even after admitting they have spent much of our dues money on expenses we didn’t know about or authorize. They sent us threatening letters, put us into collections, and even called my mother at her home in an attempt intimidate us back into the fold. It has been a long few years, but we stood by our decision, and Local 825 is better for it.
Neither I nor our executive board ever wanted to make this a public issue. We tried to resolve this internally but we ran into a wall of bureaucrats at the state union office. New Haven firefighters place the public’s safety above our own every day. We mitigate harm, battle fires, and save lives. We shouldn’t have to battle with the UPFFA. But they think they have the right to New Haven firefighters’ money and unearned allegiance.
It was only after UPFFA threatened to sue us that we took legal action. We recently filed a case at the New Haven Superior Court with the help and experience of the Fairness Center, a non-profit law firm, which represents those hurt by public sector union officials. I have been asked as a union leader: why choose to hire the Fairness Center? The reply is quick: they are effective, responsive, and specialize in this area of the law. As firefighters we know that merit matters. We are asking the court to uphold our decision to leave the UPFFA and bar the state union from trying to extract dues that New Haven firefighters don’t owe. We are also seeking the return of approximately $100,000 in misspent funds to our firefighters.
This is more than a local issue; the right of a local union to disaffiliate from a larger state association when the local believes that it can better serve its first-responder members is an issue of public concern.
Unfortunately, sometimes as an organization grows, bureaucracy increases and efficiency plummets. When that happens, large organizations like the UPFFA have learned to protect themselves at the expense of individuals and local groups. Sometimes the election of new officers can help to reset an organization. But sometimes the only prudent path is disaffiliation. That is the path Local 825 has chosen to take in this instance to protect the best interests of its fire fighter members.
The UPFFA filed national charges against the principal officers of New Haven Fire Fighters over our local union’s disaffiliation from the UPFFA. The charges were filed with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), headquartered in Washington, D.C., and demonstrate how far the UPFFA will go to control our local union. Among other requests, the UPFFA asks the IAFF to remove our leadership from office, essentially invalidating our free elections and dishonoring the choices of our fire fighter members. These charges are frivolous and retaliatory. This is a seemingly desperate attempt by the UPFFA to drag our case into a venue it perceives to be more favorable to it. Doing so would avoid a court’s review of UPFFA’s refusal to honor our local’s vote to disaffiliate.
Our lawsuit is about basic fairness. Our rights are being trampled. As Americans, we cannot allow this to happen. We know that the price of our republic is vigilance, and we are committed to see this through. We are confident that our position will be vindicated in the courts.
Frank Ricci was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano. He is an advisory board member for Fire Engineering, a battalion chief and union president in New Haven, Conn. Ricci’s opinions are not related to and do not reflect those of his employer of the professional organizations in which is involved.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.