Northeast Times

Firefighters oust union boss

Bill Gault, who was very vo­cal about per­ceived mis­takes in the hand­ling of the Kens­ing­ton Buck Ho­siery fire, has been voted out of his post as head of Phil­adelphia's Loc­al 22 fire­fight­ers uni­on.

Bill Gault would some­times bor­row from The God­fath­er to il­lus­trate the chal­lenges con­front­ing him as the elec­ted pres­id­ent of Phil­adelphia’s fire­fight­ers uni­on, which is in the midst of a four-year con­tract dis­pute with the city.

Gault, who served a dec­ade on the ex­ec­ut­ive board of Loc­al 22 of the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers be­fore win­ning the pres­id­ency in 2009, de­scribed him­self as “a war­time con­sigliere” last week in an ex­clus­ive in­ter­view.

Gault, from Kens­ing­ton, but who now lives in the North­east, was head of Loc­al 22 dur­ing dis­putes with Fire De­part­ment Com­mis­sion­er Lloyd Ay­ers and the May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion over wheth­er fire de­part­ment com­mand­ers made mis­takes in hand­ling the fatal April 2012 blaze at Kens­ing­ton’s va­cant Buck Ho­siery build­ing.

The blaze claimed the lives of Lt. Robert Neary and fire­fight­er Daniel Sweeney, and Gault in 2012 called their deaths “pre­vent­able.”

Now, with the uni­on’s war against the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion mired in a stale­mate of law­suits and ant­ag­on­ism, Loc­al 22 mem­bers are lin­ing up be­hind a dif­fer­ent lead­er. Bat­talion Chief Joe Schulle de­feated Gault in a month-long elec­tion that con­cluded last week. Schulle, 42, garnered 1,736 votes to Gault’s 1,209. About three-fourths of the uni­on’s 4,000 act­ive and re­tired mem­bers cast bal­lots, with the 1,900 act­ive mem­bers vot­ing heav­ily in Schulle’s fa­vor.

Gault, 55, viewed the out­come not as a re­jec­tion of his own out­spoken and of­ten con­front­a­tion­al meth­ods, but rather as a state­ment of gen­er­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion among Loc­al 22 mem­bers that their uni­on has been un­able to com­pel Nut­ter to im­ple­ment two fa­vor­able ar­bit­ra­tion awards, the latest of which was is­sued last Ju­ly and has been up­held by an ap­peals court.

“My mem­bers are frus­trated. You’ve got to see the writ­ing on the wall. They haven’t had a raise in four years,” said Gault, who will va­cate his uni­on post on Ju­ly 1 and re­turn to a fire­house as a lieu­ten­ant.

“I think the frus­tra­tion level has peaked,” he said.

Among act­ive mem­bers, the vote went in Schulle’s fa­vor, 1,351 to 183, ac­cord­ing to a fire de­part­ment source. The res­ults were pub­lished last Wed­nes­day in a mem­bers only sec­tion of the uni­on Web site.

“Right now, half of the [act­ive] de­part­ment has less than sev­en or eight years on the job. They’re not used to wait­ing this long for a raise,” Gault said.

Ten of­fices were up for grabs in the bi-an­nu­al uni­on elec­tion. The so-called Team Schulle chal­lenged for sev­en seats, but won just three. Pro-Gault in­cum­bents won the oth­er sev­en, in­clud­ing both vice pres­id­ent seats and treas­urer. Re­cord­ing sec­ret­ary was the lone un­con­tested race.

Gault will have served two two-year terms.

Schulle, also a North­east res­id­ent, joined the de­part­ment in 1992 and com­mands the 4th Bat­talion at Fourth and Arch streets. The U.S. Air Force vet­er­an tried to con­vince mem­bers that a change in lead­er­ship could help break the con­tract im­passe.

“Our plat­form was to re-es­tab­lish the line of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the city and fire de­part­ment of­fi­cials that has been severed over the last few years,” Schulle said in an in­ter­view last week. “We want to start mend­ing re­la­tions with the city as well as the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the fire de­part­ment.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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