Fire Fighters Respond to 'Incindiary' Fundraising Letter

Feb. 14, 2003
The union representing fire fighters is fightin' mad these days, following a fundraising letter signed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) that they claim is inflammatory and disrespectful of unions in general and fire fighters in particular.

The letter, part of a fundraising effort for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWF), claims organized labor's "selfish drive to use the national emergencies we face today to grab more power, presents a clear and present danger to the security of the United States at the home and the safety of our Armed Forces overseas."

Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, was singled out in the letter and penned a letter of his own to DeLay. "Organized labor has consistently rallied to the defense of our nation in times of crisis and continues to do so. For you to say otherwise is insulting and just plain iniquitous," wrote Schaitberger.

He noted that on Sept. 11, 2001, "my proud union lost 343 fire fighters at Ground Zero. Are you aware that many of those American heroes were actually off-duty, working off the clock? Those fallen fire fighters didn't stop to read a union contract or worry about overtime entitlements. They responded. They served. And they died saving tens of thousands of other Americans."

Saying he was not writing to debate the agendas of the NRWF or the IAFF, Schaitberger noted, "In our great Republic, reasonable people can disagree on policy and politics, and you and I obviously have radically different perspectives on those two issues. I write instead to make it clear that your scurrilous letter crossed the lines of decorum, accuracy and common decency."

DeLay's signing of the letter didn't earn him any friends over at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters either. James Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters, called the letter "a personal affront." In a letter of his own to the Republican majority leader, he reminded DeLay that thousands of union workers were at Ground Zero after 9/11 working "tirelessly for months, often without any expectation of recognition or compensation."

DeLay now is backing away from the content of NRWF letter. "Tom DeLay doesn't believe the words that were ascribed to him," insisted a DeLay spokesperson, "nor would he approve the overheated fund-raising hyperbole in the letter."

DeLay said the letter was sent out without his authorization, adding, "The letter that was sent out, quite frankly, was sloppy, and I don't like sloppy in my operation."

DeLay, who tried to call both Hoffa and Schaitberger, noted the "hyperbole [in the letter] does not reflect how I deal with unions, with union bosses or the issues that are important to them."

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is sticking by its letter.

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