A Fourth of July parade float honoring firefighters and police killed on Sept. 11 seems like a poignant tribute worth celebrating, no? Well, apparently not for leaders of the Wisconsin firefighters union.
The float, a re-enactment of a now famous photo depicting three firefighters raising the American flag amid the rubble of the World Trade Center, first paraded the streets of Milwaukee back in 2002 and was met with applauds by an emotional crowd. Milwaukee fire lieutenant Matt Gorniak sought to revive the float for this year's Fourth of July parade but soon found out union politics can get in the way of even the most innocent, heartfelt endeavors.
With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks coming up later this year, Gorniak and his church's youth group decided to revive the float in Racine's upcoming Independence Day parade, one of the biggest in the area. Unexpectedly, the request set off a debate among the leaders of the Racine firefighters union.
The problem: Gorniak had recently invoked a little-used provision in his union contract and opted out of membership in the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. Members of the executive board of the Racine firefighters union ultimately decided not to support or march with his float.
Gorniak said union president Craig Ford was initially excited about getting involved with the float but turned cool just days later. Presumably because Gorniak is a "fair share" employee. JSOnline explains what happens when public employees opt out of their unions and go "fair share":
Under state law, public employees can drop out of the union and opt to pay just their "fair share" for the cost the union incurs for negotiating contracts. These nonvoting employees don't have to foot the bill for the union's political, social and ideological activities.
Officials say it is highly unusual for Wisconsin firefighters to ask to go fair share. But Gorniak - who describes himself as a born-again Christian who supports conservative politicians, including Gov. Scott Walker - filed his resignation letter and became a fair-share worker in late March or early April. He said he made the move in response to the protests in Madison over Walker's collective-bargaining plan.
Ford decided to take the parade issue to his executive board. Before the vote, Gorniak said, he offered to back out and turn over the keys to the truck, letting Ford and other Racine firefighters lead the float through the parade.
It didn't work. Gorniak said he was told a few days later that the board had voted not to support the float.
In the end Gorniak -- who believes the float is meant to be about firefighters who died and not union politics -- decided he will run the float "with or without the firefighters."