The firefighters' union puts its faith in—gulp—Mayor Rahm | Bleader

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The firefighters' union puts its faith in—gulp—Mayor Rahm

Posted By on 01.21.15 at 03:36 PM

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Rahms got the Chicago Firefighters Union behind him.
It seems like only yesterday that Mayor Rahm—backed by his mayoral body guards, of course—was marching into firehouses to tell the rank and file he was cutting their pensions.

And, if they didn't like it, they could kiss his mayoral derriere.

Well, that was then—or 2012, to be exact—and this is now, where to my surprise, the firefighters' union has decided to endorse Mayor Pension Snatch for reelection.

To get the inside scoop, I called Thomas Ryan, president of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, to ask: Tommy, what the f . . .

In so many words, of course.

"Yes, I remember, those firehouse visits," Ryan said. "I had it out with his people over that."

And he also remembers how the mayor spent the first two or so years in office talking about cutting health benefits, closing stations, and cutting staff.

You know, treating firefighters like he treats teachers.

Ryan says he believes he's seen a change in the mayor. He says the mayor's come to realize that a world-class city needs a first-class fire department.

And you can't achieve that goal by gutting the ranks, and cutting their salaries and benefits.

As evidence, he points to the fact that last summer the mayor agreed to a new contract with the union, basically giving them just about everything they'd asked for in negotiations. Including retroactive raises.

Based on that contract, Ryan figures it's only right to give the mayor the benefit of the doubt regarding future pension issues and to endorse him. Even though he insists that no deals were made.

That is, the mayor didn't demand a union endorsement in exchange for agreeing to the contract.

"Absolutely not," says Ryan. "Never happened."

Moreover, in the matter of pensions—which the mayor has conveniently put off until after the election—Ryan remains confident that the mayor has backed off from his old hard-line stance.

"We were given assurances with regard to pension and retiree health care," says Ryan. "We were given assurances that we will have an open dialogue to solve those problems in a fair way."

Well, President Ryan is absolutely correct when he says that the mayor did an about-face last summer when he agreed to that contract.

And that, furthermore, the mayor borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay for the deal.

Even though the mayor had sworn up and down that the days of borrow today to pay for tomorrow had ended with Mayor Daley.

Thus, Rahm undercuts his image as Mr. Bottom Line, which no one should have been dumb enough to fall for in the first place.

But my interpretation of why Mayor Rahm inked that contract is a little different than President Ryan's.

You might say we have a philosophical disagreement in which President Ryan holds to the views of John Locke while I have more of a Thomas Hobbes view of the world.

If you recall from your high school history texts, Locke was a philosopher of the Enlightenment, who believed that man was governed by logic and reason, and would make enlightened decisions when presented with the facts.

As Ryan would say Mayor Rahm did in the matter of the firefighters' contract.

I, in contrast, see the mayor as Hobbes might: a nasty, brutish type who will take what he can unless stopped by a more powerful force.

In short, the mayor signed that firefighters' contract 'cause he had no choice.

Go back if you will the summer of 2014. Mayor Rahm was behind in the polls. Pretty much everyone agreed that Toni Preckwinkle would mop the floor with him.

And if Toni didn't run, there was always Karen Lewis, waiting in the wings.

The last thing the mayor needed was firefighters—and all their relatives—up in arms over the fact that he was dragging his feet on a contract that had expired in 2012.

In short, the mayor signed that contract 'cause the firefighters had his aforementioned mayoral derriere up against the wall.

As I see it, by giving Rahm its endorsement—with another godforsaken batch of commercials to follow—the union is putting a whole lot of faith in man who's never been a great friend of labor.

"I have learned in this business you've got to keep an open mind," says Ryan.

Well, President Ryan, you and I are going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

But that's the beauty of Chicago—it's big enough to contain two vastly different perspectives on what makes Mayor Rahm tick.

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