1. Archive

"Scabs' feel the heat from fire union

Tuesday morning, Michael J. Moore was Lt. Moore.

He couldn't answer questions about the firefighters union even though he's the president. He would have to do that when he was Michael J. Moore again _ without the lieutenant handle.

Catch me when I'm off duty, he said. In the meantime, "There's someone at the union office" who will talk with you.

Then Lt. Moore learned there was going to be something about his union in the paper the next day.


Lt. Moore became President Moore.

And that's no small transformation. Moore, the president, doesn't like firefighters who are not in his union. He doesn't socialize with them, won't chat with them.

Lt. Moore, on the other hand, has to work with them, tell them what to do. Some of them work for him from time to time.

That creates a potential problem, some non-union firefighters say.

Moore says he's able to keep his two identities separated and not allow his contempt for non-members to interfere with the working environment. Several of the 16 firefighters on the "scab list" say that isn't entirely true. They say the union-scab issue is pervasive and counterproductive.

Some say they are pressured to join. A notice on the bulletin board in St. Petersburg stations lends some credibility to their claim. It is not at all subtle.

"This is an up to date list of the Fire Fighters and Lieutenants who do not belong to the Union," the notice reads. "It will be appreciated if you would take the time to explain to these people the need for unity in labor. . . .

"If any one of these brothers states that he will not join the union, please advise your shift vice-president. The vice-president will then contact that person and offer more information."

Moore said about 340 firefighters are in Local 747, which includes the St. Petersburg, Lealman, Treasure Island and South Pasadena fire departments. Of the 16 people on the non-member list, 15 are black.

It is no coincidence. Like the police union, the St. Petersburg Association of Fire Fighters lost some of its black members when it endorsed Ernest Curtsinger in the city's mayoral election.

However, non-members say the union already was in disfavor. They claim the union has never given black firefighters adequate representation. One firefighter said he was doomed when he requested union representation after he was charged with a minor infraction: The representative he got was the same officer who had written him up.

It would be political suicide for black firefighters to lend their names to this allegation, but many say they believe it: The firefighters union helps promote white firefighters.

Neither the chief, the mayor nor the city's top administrator in charge of the Fire Department was in the city Tuesday to respond to questions about the smoldering embers of dissent in the department.

Chief Fred Hawkins, the city's fire marshal and third in command of the department, was. He said he simply would have requested different representation in the case had he been in the firefighter's place.

Hawkins said charges made by the firefighters appeared to be "sour grapes." He adamantly rejected their charge that the union is used as a stepping stone to promotion for white males. He said the promotion process is more objective, relying on a series of tests.

Hawkins and Moore denied that the tension between union and non-union members is great enough to jeopardize the work they have to do as a team. "Once the bell rings, it's been my experience that the company reacts as a team," Hawkins said.

But pressures the union is exerting to expand its membership is straining seams that were never that strong anyway. The decision to join a union should be just that, a decision, not an escape from pressure to join.