Ethics: The Darren Bates Story

What a Man Should be Remembered For

As we confront the ethics crisis at the IAFF it helps to see how General President Harold Schaitberger treated an IAFF member accused of an offense as he now is.

About five years ago Darren Bates, an Omaha fire captain, IAFF Local 385 president and district field service representative (DFSR) was arrested on a trumped up charge in a dubious “prostitution sting” in Iowa. Bates had arranged for a massage and repeatedly declined more, only to be arrested when local cops leaped out of their hiding place to apprehend him like a team of corn husker Clouseaus.

As a former local and state president (from Schaitberger’s own local and state), I learned early on that due process is essential for anyone accused of wrongdoing. As IAFF leaders we have fought vigorously with management to force them to extend it to our members. It’s of particular relevance in a right-to-work state.

When word reached the IAFF that Bates had been arrested, the reaction was swift and sure. Schaitberger, with DVP Mark Woolbright’s full support, fired Bates from his post as a DFSR and then caused the IAFF to distribute notice of his firing to news outlets whom then published it.

GP Harold Schaitberger humiliated a brother IAFF member for no supportable reason. Herobbed a member of the due process and dignity owed to all of us. Worse yet, he betrayed Bates’s union trust by proudly leaking his actions to the news media.

At the time, Action 3 News said, “The IAFF’s Assistant Press Secretary told Action 3 News, We won’t comment further and we’re letting the documents speak for themselves.”

That’s nothing more than code for letting IAFF member Darren Bates twist in the wind with rope supplied by his union.

Schaitberger also gave management the right to deny due process to IAFF locals by allowing them to now say, “Your president does not extend due process, why should we?”

Several days later I was sitting three feet away from Harold Schaitberger when he said about Bates, “I can do anything I want, he’s not an employee.”  To which I thought, (and lacked the guts to say,) but he is a member.

That episode proved what many already knew: Schaitberger is much better as an unprincipled management guy than a labor leader looking out for our rights. He is mesmerized and addicted to the illusion of absolute power and authority, blinding him to ethical decision making.

The Bates incident was both a window into his soul and the act for which he should be most remembered.

His fatal flaw is his lack of desire to look beyond the immediate political or personal advantage of an action to the wider ethical effects.

The board’s passive, servile and cowardly conduct has done nothing but empower his amoral and unethical behavior.

I told people at the time and later that the Bates incident was the moment I knew I had to leave. The job of a lifetime was instead a degrading, abusive and humiliating experience where you were part of something that was wrong.

I told Schaitberger as I retired from the IAFF that though I was an IAFF leader and a firefighter in a right-to-work state for 22 years, he had treated me worse than any scab fire chief ever had.

I meant it then and I mean it now.

Oh, by the way, Darren Bates was found not guilty in less than three hours by a jury.

Still, Harold Schaitberger did what he could to ruin his life.


  • Dave Thompson says:

    This resonates in my bones in a bad way… Darren was an IAFF Leader and IAFF Friend. Darren on behalf of the Woolbright Campaign for 2nd DVP Election traveled to my area of the 2nd District and pitched for Mark’s Election for CHANGE. Same year / IAFF Convention Darren recieved a prestigious award from the IAFF for his IAFF Local PAC contributions being the best in the IAFF; and Woolbright won election over the incumbant 2nd DVP! Months later, he is guilty as accused and cast out like rotten meat. NOBODY wanted to wait to hear his side or allow “due process”—it was distance that the IAFF endorsed and promoted. Societal plagues against those related to accusations of sex, harrassment, and discrimination are all found GUILTY by those watching and must prove their “personal innocence” to those same people watching—-rather than being PROVEN GUILTY by the facts presented and judge / jury.

    Darren won. He won the freedom of being able to knowingly define friendships over the value of the $$$ and image protection. He works in a “right to work” state and gets to continue to benefit from the IAFF’s hard work—and not have to pay a dime to get it. Not by choice–but by his LEGAL RIGHT. The same can be said about “due process” and being a LEGAL RIGHT; but then again our “brand and image” are too precious to take care of one of our own.

  • Dave Thompson says:

    And by the way Mr. Lamar… I find your emails quite “far reaching” and extraordinary on the part of what MY IAFF stands for and is about… Frankly, you tend to p*^s me off with your statements and accusations… but this topic about Darren Bates was dead-on! Too many people in this IAFF “listen to respond” rather than “listen to learn” and I for one have been guilty of that too. We have a voice—this is OUR UNION.

    • Eric Lamar says:

      Thanks, Dave. I figure if I piss everybody off once in a while I miss be close to the mark. Sometimes I even piss myself off.

      But this is not one of those times.


  • bobr says:

    I don’t know the principles in this issue but from what I have read on it, the actions of President Schaitberger and the IAFF Board are nothing less than deplorable. For the President of a major labor organization to personally try, convict, and sentence an IAFF member before he has even had his day in court is beyond the pale, and he needs to be held accountable for his actions. I have been a member of the IAFF for over 45 years and I can state categorically that I’m ashamed of our leadership for ever allowing such a thing to happen. Schaitberger would be the first one to scream like a scalded cat if this situation were to occur to him and he needs to be held accountable for his actions. I think it’s time for new IAFF leadership, and I hope our membership will do just that at the next annual meeting.

  • Darren Bates says:

    To those brothers who supported me when all those I supported left me thank you. Eric you were one of the only true firefighters at the IAFF, the rest in any position of authority are simply low political bitches. It was those very few brothers who actually supported me and my family that got me through the organized deceit and media blitz Shaitberger and Mike McDonnell organized. Amazing how a union president is fired during contract negotiations months before a mayoral election and the IAFF takes the side of management and conspires to ruin the Union. McDonnell becomes chief and decimates local 385 and creates political havoc. McDonnell got fired. His treachery caught up to him and Harold’s will too. It is people like them who have created animosity and hatred towards firefighters.

    Thank you to Eric Lamar and those few who supported and stood by me during one of the most difficult times of my life. My family is finally starting to recover from the betrayal.

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