IAFF’s Teefy Talks Union Ethics

Your Table is Ready, Sir

I recently wrote how the IAFF under Harold Schaitberger’s leadership has been diminished yet again, this time by placing firefighter safety related advertising in our publications.

John Teefy replied with a robust and lengthy defense of how whoring out safety advocacy is actually a good (and noble) thing.

Teefy makes the argument that IAFF programs cost money and therefore any money, from any source is fine.


He also likens this advertising revenue to “labor-management” partnerships with fire chiefs.  He suggests that a cooperative approach with management is somehow akin to taking money from those we are charged with overseeing because our member’s lives depend on it.

A bit later he accuses me of a lack of “sound thinking” and finally, charges, “if you have any example of the IAFF compromising safety for money please bring it forward.”

His “we’ll take money from anywhere” philosophy is the exact problem with the current IAFF leadership.  It’s proof that money reigns supreme over considerations of ethics or basic union principles.

Your Table, Sir

Your Table, Sir

Money Well Spent?

For sure, programs cost money, but isn’t that what we pay dues for?

Before we sacrifice our safety advocacy role shouldn’t we be sure that all IAFF dollars are being judiciously and properly spent?

Word on the street is that the 16 IAFF District vice-presidents, any number of whom are functionally derelict, are set to get a salary increase from $75K to $120K.  Who in their right mind thinks that is money well spent?

And, when was the last time a union firefighter got a $45,000 dollar pay raise?

(Most firefighters barely even make that much.)

If money is really the issue, how many hundreds of thousands of dollars has been spent by the principal officers on high-end $1,000 dinners where only buzzed IAFF leaders sit around a table at a fancy restaurant for four hours?

And again, when was the last time a rank-and-file IAFF firefighter spent $500 or $1,000 on a meal?

Before we whore ourselves out why not stop frivolous first class air travel and the constant use of limousines when taxis and coach class fulfill the same mission at a fraction of the cost?

Conflict of Interest

Teefy goes on to say, “…to assert that these conflicts are or have happened is not only untrue, but reckless.”

He is either wholly ignorant on the topic of ethics or he thinks we are.

Here is the operative definition of conflict of interest:

“The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of impropriety. A widely used definition is: a conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”

IAFF leadership is engaging in a conflict of interest around our health and safety because they have created circumstances where professional judgment is perpetually at risk.

The examples of frivolous and profligate miss-use of member’s dues which I cited earlier is more than sufficient proof of the shaky judgment of the current IAFF leadership.  Their ethically challenged judgment should lead to ever greater concern about their decision to take money from companies who hold our lives in their hands.

The plain fact is that whoring out the IAFF just gives the bigwigs more money for extravagant meals, lodging and travel.

Avoid Even the Appearance of Impropriety

People who really care about topics such as ethics and conflict of interest, including judges and others in government service, employ a common standard that has become part of federal law.  Quite simply, when engaging in any activity it is ethically proper to “avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

In a nutshell, stay away from actions or situations that might even appear improper.  When viewed in this light, our union’s decision to engage in financial transactions with safety manufacturers is a blatant example of conflict and professional impropriety.

Teefy spins out a cozy, back-slapping world where deals and money are the number one order of the day.  Perhaps his loyalty to the fat cats will be rewarded with a cushy seat at the Prime Rib or Capitol Grill.  I hope the steak is good.

But, that’s not my union.

My union protects me even when they have to take a taxi , ride in coach and eat at Red Lobster.

I want that union back.




  • Don Jewett says:

    Wow! I have so many comments I could make but will refrain for now.

    I’m happy to see a Secretary makes $70k+ from my dues money. Disgraceful, no better than the Teamsters or UAW’s.

    • Dennis says:

      If you check USA.jobs.com a Secretary/Office Assistant in the Federal Govt. usually starts as a GS-07, pay range $42,600 to $67,700. So the $70K is not out of line. I would want to know for sure the IAFF is getting value for the 82 staff who make >$75K.

  • Eric Lamar says:

    Support staff are the least of the problems. In fact, they are part of a union that bargains for their wages and benefits. If you think pay is exorbitant blame IAFF management for caving in at the bargaining table.

    I support their union membership and their right to bargain.

  • Smitty says:

    A very interesting article, Eric. Two things come to mind: Having grown up Catholic, we were taught that it is a sin to do something wrong. It is also a sin to put yourself in a place where you could do something wrong. It’s called “the occasion of sin.” I think that’s a pretty good standard. Second, if one has any kind of public position, it is always wise to ask if you’d want to see that activity on the front page of the Washington Post…or as my husband says,”What could go wrong with that?

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

  • Dennis says:

    I have been following your criticism of the IAFF leadership closely and have some comments and questions for you. First, I am not sure it is possible to totally eliminate outside influence within the IAFF or for that matter, any organization which headquarters itself inside of the Beltway. The incestuous relationship between the Federal Government, lobbyists, unions, mega-corporations, special interests, and non-profits is alive and well within the confines of DC regardless of any administration’s claim of no revolving doors and maintaining an “arm’s distance” ethics policy. True be told, the “arm’s distance” ethics policy in DC is more like the set of a porno shoot.

    That the “wink-wink”, “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” attitude now appears to have taken root in our beloved International should come as no surprise to anyone. Any realist understands that influence peddling has always been there (you were a Legislative Rep, so you were on the front lines), the only question is how much of our soul do we sell to the devil in order to achieve our goals and objectives. Your line in the sand is allowing fire service vendors to advertise on the International’s Website and in publications. You have said that taking money from fire service vendors is a conflict of interest and places our members at risk of unsafe working conditions.

    I can see your reasoning here. Say for example a SCBA manufacturer produces a defective device which ultimately results in the injury or death of firefighters, Yet on page 23 of the “Fire Fighter”, same company has a 1/4 page ad touting the defective BA. Uh-Oh.

    So where do we go from here. How do we, as you ask in your essay, “get OUR union back”. The current GP appears to be quite entrenched in his position, I don’t know for sure, but he has never been even remotely challenged. In fact many of his former colleagues from Fairfax County supporting him financially when he ran for GP the first time. Your blog has been a first step in educating the members. So people may interpret your accusations of conflict of interest as the ranting of a disgruntled ex-employee. So my question is how do we hold our International Officers and Staff accountable for keeping an arms distance ethics policy with fire service vendors, and to be good stewards of the millions of dollars of union dues the IAFF collects from its members every year?

  • Bill Hand says:

    I always felt like the majority of the instructors involved in the IAFF Hazmat Training Programs were concerned with firefighter health and safety. That is why I stayed with the program as long as I did. I had no problem donating my “fair share” to FIREPAC, which we were constantly reminded that we were expected to do. What made me feel dirty was donating to the GPs campaign fund when he was running unopposed. I understand that he has to travel and conduct other business in that position, but doesn’t his substantial salary and expense account cover that? Like you seem to be saying, it came down to everything being for sale. In spite of outstanding evaluations by students, I noticed fewer opportunities to conduct training after I stopped my personal “donations” to the GP. I began to feel like a hypocrite in having to pay for the privilege to be an IAFF instructor and dropped from the program before the program dropped me.
    I would also like to see the old union back and for the IAFF Hazmat/WMD training program to be what it was about 25 years ago when it began.

  • R.Zarbo says:

    I am a full time paid Fire Fighter – Buffalo NY – – Hit the nail square on the head – PACFUNDS are nothing more than “buying access” – although the donations are supposed to be “voluntary” our contributions are taken out of our paychecks as part of the Union dues. The states you are supposed to have read and signed a voluntary contribution form – no one I have ever talked to said they were aware of that – nor were they aware part of their “Dues” were directed to the PAC Fund – we don’t get to discuss or vote on what Politicians receive our money.
    As long as we keep buying access to Politicians – we will always live and die by their agenda. In NY our Unions backed Gov Cuomo and his LT Duffy – when they were running both said they were going after our pension system – the Unions still funded them – Why ?

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