Northeast Times

Starting over

Some­times, when things get really con­vo­luted, the smartest thing to do is to hit the re­set but­ton.

Phil­adelphia’s fire­fight­ers did just that last week when they chose Bat­talion Chief Joe Schulle to be the next lead­er of In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers Loc­al 22. In do­ing so, they denied pres­id­ent Bill Gault his bid for re-elec­tion.

It’s ap­par­ent from the vot­ing res­ults that those staff­ing the city’s fire­houses had aban­doned him in droves.

Who could blame them? They have been work­ing without a con­tract or pay raises since 2009, the same year that Gault was elec­ted to the top uni­on spot.

In his ex­clus­ive in­ter­view with the Times, Gault ac­know­ledged that the “frus­tra­tion level” had peaked among the rank and file.

His suc­cessor, Schulle, said after the elec­tion that it was “time to at­tack things at a new angle.”

For bet­ter or worse, Gault has been in a pitched battle with May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter over the con­tract, brown­outs, fur­loughs and oth­er is­sues near and dear to the fire­fight­ers’ hearts. The may­or has re­peatedly failed to hon­or bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion awards for a new con­tract, say­ing the city couldn’t af­ford them, and has kept the is­sue held up in the courts.

After Gault’s de­feat, the may­or wasted no time is­su­ing a state­ment say­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion was look­ing for­ward to “es­tab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing an open and re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ship” with the new uni­on lead­er­ship.

Then he put money where his mouth was, say­ing that $31 mil­lion would be set aside to pay whatever is owed the fire­fight­ers when the con­tract dis­pute is re­solved.

All of this leads us to be­lieve that the dis­pute between the firebrand uni­on lead­er and the ul­tra-stub­born may­or had be­come a per­son­al battle. We hope Schulle will start with a clean slate and find a will­ing­ness on the may­or’s part to settle this dis­pute quickly.

But first, Schulle will have to win over the uni­on of­ficers that his slate of sev­en can­did­ates failed to un­seat. He would do well to make sure he and the board hol­d­overs lock arms be­fore go­ing in­to the fray with the may­or.

As Gault heads back to the fire­house, he is to be ap­plauded for his hard work on be­half of the uni­on at a time of severe eco­nom­ic hard­ship. As we watched him go toe-to-toe with the may­or, we some­times ques­tioned his meth­ods, but nev­er his pas­sion for try­ing to get the best deal he could for his fel­low fire­fight­ers. •• 

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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