Cops, firefighters turn on GOP in labor fight
'When did we all become evil?' asked the Fraternal Order of Police president. | AP Photo
By JEANNE CUMMINGS | 4/1/11 4:35 AM EDT
Many cops and firefighters have thrown their allegiance to the GOP for years – union members who frequently stray from labor’s longtime support for Democrats.
A host of new Republican governors is changing all that.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others took aim at the GOP’s most powerful labor antagonists but ended up hitting some of the party’s best friends too — leaving public-safety unions fearful this year’s attack on teachers might easily be next year’s attack on them.
It’s a political shift that could have significant repercussions, and not just because these right-leaning union members vote for Republicans in sizable numbers. Angry cops and firefighters make for bad PR – especially after Republicans under President George W. Bush aligned themselves so successfully with the heroes of 9/11 in the years since then.
Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his members are “shocked” by the turn of events.
“Who are these evil teachers who teach your children, these evil policemen who protect them, these evil firemen who pull them from burning buildings? When did we all become evil?” said Canterbury, whose union endorsed Bush in 2000 and 2004 and John McCain in 2008.
He is traveling the country to rally FOP members to rise up against anti-labor laws in their states or in support of their colleagues in other states. “There is going to be a backlash,” said Canterbury, a former county police officer in South Carolina. “We are going to hold them accountable.”
Already, rank-and-file police officers and firefighters who long viewed themselves as separate from the rest of the movement are carrying picket signs, signing petitions and standing side-by-side with their labor brethren.
In Wisconsin, Walker, who was endorsed by some small police and fire unions, carved out a special exemption for them in his proposal that essentially denies all other public employees the right to collective bargaining.
But when Walker ordered the Capitol police to arrest Wisconsin demonstrators who refused to obey a curfew, they refused – and instead hundreds of them lined up with the demonstrators to show solidarity.
“We know what’s right from wrong,” one officer shouted into a bullhorn in the packed Capitol building. “We will not be kicking anyone out. In fact, we will be sleeping here with you!”
In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich and his Republican allies decided against giving police and firemen special treatment, opting instead to try to appeal to their conservative instincts and win them over to the cause.
Since then, Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, said he’s had Republican members “apologize” for backing Kasich. “They are never voting that way again,” said Sanders, a Cincinnati fire department lieutenant.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) experienced the blowback firsthand when he attended a recent event for rising leaders in the New York fire department.
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