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.