There are plenty of signs pointing to a long term pattern of harassment and retaliation of women in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (FRD).
Most devastating is the Hernandez decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which caused Fairfax County to finally, and belatedly, do the right thing.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also alleging discrimination by the FRD and by the local union, the Fairfax County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association, IAFF Local 2068.
Many are those who love to hate the ACLU until they are defending their rights.
The current crop of leaders of my local union, or what seems to pass for leaders, should be cringing at the ACLU’s decision.
In firefighter terms they are the Engine 82 and Ladder 31 of the advocacy business.
The ACLU is a storied national organization with a substantial pool of prospective clients and issues and they know well how to expertly vet facts and choose cases.
They chose us.
The ACLU complaint states, “Notably, at the FRD virtually all officers below the Fire Chief, including Deputy Chiefs, Battalions Chiefs , and Captains also are eligible to be members of the union, and many FRD officers also hold leadership roles in the union. Accordingly, criticism of and adverse action by FRD leadership is in many cases indistinguishable from criticism of and adverse action by Local 2068.”
This is the lawyerly way of stating that the union, tasked with protecting its member’s rights, utterly failed to accomplish their mandate as they chose to become synchronous with management, even to the point of engaging in fierce retaliation.
Dave Barlow, an elected leader of Local 2068 had this to say, “Kathleen Stanley authored and distributed misleading information designed to be destructive and inflammatory against the FRD and individual members of 2068…I think we as a membership we should have a zero tolerance for this type of rouge [rogue?] behavior and should pursue a vote to remove Kathleen Stanley from our membership.”
Barlow all but conflates the FRD and the local into a single, monolithic entity, mutually supporting one another.
Terminating the membership of someone who was fighting for their right to a safe and equitable workplace is retaliation par excellence.
If you are still unconvinced that the FRD and union had philosophically merged, at least where the treatment of women is concerned, there is this:
“Another member of the union’s Executive Board, Jeff Loach, issued a “Call to Action” to union members urging their attendance at the March 13 press conference, stating, “We need as many personnel as possible to turnout and support OUR department. . . . We need as many members to attend to show WE are united!! Please attend!!”
(That’s a press conference called by former FRD chief Bowers, where by any measure the union should have been amassing troops in support of Kathleen Stanley rather than once again recklessly aligning with management.)
Loach’s “call to action” needs to be viewed in light of the Fourth Circuit decision which stated, in part, “a reasonable jury could determine that the County retaliated against Hernandez.”
Loach, a union leader, was defending actions by the FRD which were suspect at best and blatantly retaliatory at their worst.
It was yet more evidence of the Local’s failure to accomplish the mission of fighting to achieve equity in the workplace.
The Local is in an exceedingly precarious position if any of the charges stick and here is why.
Fairfax County, on any given day, could care less about the union or whether or not it serves its members well or for that matter, at all.
That changes when evidence emerges that the union is denying employees their rights and as a result, creating potential liability for the County because they ensure the funding of the union through dues deduction.
County leaders who care little about employment equity become giddy at the prospect of legal risk mitigation.
They could well conclude that a strategy to both limit legal liability and reputational damage would be to end dues deduction for the union as proof that they are serious about refusing to aid or abet harassment or discrimination, including by employee organizations.
That would be a devastating outcome for the Local but also the consequence of a systemic failure to act like a union.
It would be deeply ironic if the Local thought they were being brilliant in choosing to play management’s tune, all the while sawing off the limb behind themselves.
The ACLU filing also says, “Members specifically have appealed to Union President Ron Kuley (“Kuley”), to urge him to step in and stop Barlow, but Kuley refused and allowed the abuse to continue for two weeks.”
Because Kuley is the president, choosing to remain silent in the face of such comments by others is as bad as saying the words yourself.
Silence equals agreement.
If the Local can’t overcome the significant damage of Kuley, Barlow, Loach and their ilk, then it’s time for settlement talks.
Speaking of settlement talks, it’s also time to hire a very good attorney, not to fight the obvious, but rather to chart a course out of the self-imposed catastrophe we are in.
Another irony is that any competent attorney would have told Local leaders to limit risk by simply acting like a union–don’t be in lockstep with management–represent your members.
Finally, all the very recent blather on our Facebook page by “leaders” showing new found love for women and their causes is too little, too late and too lame.
The ACLU complaint lists seven examples, stretching back months, of how the FRD retaliated by refusing to support this past weekend’s International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services conference.
Where was the Local leadership’s voice when that was occurring?
All of this is going to be quite expensive, as it should be.
It is the price to be paid when leaders don’t lead, when they sit on their hands, remaining mute rather than making us all better by ensuring equality and fairness, especially when doing so is neither popular nor pleasing to the majority.
[Lamar is a former president of the Local and a member of 42 years.]