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This past week, Oak Creek Fire Union VP Jerry Biggart shot off an email to Oak Creek Firefighters mocking Matt Gorniak's 9/11 memorial float.  In doing so, Biggart demonstrated that the meaning of 9/11 was hopelessly lost on him.  Below is an excerpt of his email - an email he did not have the intrepidity to send directly to Gorniak.  I took the liberty of italicizing the email below and emboldening parts for emphatic purposes.

"On this Labor Day I wanted to take a moment to thank you for being the hard-working union "thugs" that you are! Solidarity forever!

On a more entertaining note, I loved seeing the infamous 9/11 Float in at least one Labor Day Parade over the weekend. Funny that a group that is so anti-labor would dare disgrace the lives of those Brother's that died almost 10 years ago. I highly doubt that those UNION Firefighters that died that day would want to be memorialized by a group of people that are anti-labor and choose to use a national tragedy to propel their self-serving political interests.

Anyway, to close, I am including my latest correspondence with to the illustrious City Administrator & "Honorable" Mayor who of course knows nothing about what is going on with the benefit concessions being jammed down the throat's of the City employees - just ask him - know one tells him anything...... A line which I am getting real tired of hearing. I think that we all know that the gloves are off and this is us vs. them. We have tried time and time again to work with the City just to have it jammed up our butt and listen to how the City is the victim..."


Jerry Biggart, Vice President

Oak Creek Professional Fire Fighters Local 1848

First, it's important to note that the 9/11 float is not infamous regardless what standard you use.  It received a standing ovation in every parade in which it was featured, and the public views the float favorably as a symbol of heroism and sacrifice.  It's only infamous to certain union circles who can't accept that the man behind the float became a "fair-share" firefighter.  Perhaps more context is required.

Two months ago, the Racine Fire Union Executive Board pulled support from Gorniak's float shortly after learning he was a fair-share firefighter.  They had originally agreed to help Gorniak elicit firefighters to march alongside the 9/11 float during the 4th of July Parade.  However, working with a fair-share firefighter proved to be too repugnant for Craig Ford - the President of Racine Fire Local 321.

In a department-wide email, Ford said he would be embarrassed to ask "Brother Boles" (a union firefighter from New York) if his local should support the initiatives of fair-share members.  Why would Ford be embarrassed?  Probably because fair-share firefighters do not support the leftist politics of their union executive boards.

Despite this fact, we should remember is that fair-share firefighters still pay their union dues and still risk their lives fighting fires.  As a fair-share firefighter myself, I must pay union dues to cover the costs of negotiating my contract, which means I'm still a union member.  Understanding this point, there is no good reason why fire unions can't support the 9/11 initiatives of fair-share members.  Treating fair-share union members as outcasts is a type of retaliation, which is what happened and continues to happen to Gorniak.

The other fallacy is that being a fair-share member means you're anti-union.  As a fair-share member, I made the choice to spend the portion of my union dues, initially allotted for social and political causes, in the way I deem fit.  In other words, should I let the union spend my dues to elect Democrats, or should I choose for myself what political candidates I want to support?  Fair-share firefighters are labeled anti-union because we choose to have more autonomy over our political dollars.  And to be clear, fair-share firefighters can still give money to support union-operated charities and/or union-endorsed candidates; but the choice of who or what to support ultimately rests with us.

Both Craig Ford and Jerry Biggart failed to understand the true significance of 9/11.  It makes no difference if the 343 firefighters who died at Ground Zero were under a union contract.  The victims being rescued didn't care if their hero was a card-carrying union member.  In fact, the twenty fire chiefs that died at Ground Zero were not under a union contract.  Are they less deserving of honor?  What about Vinnie Forras, a "volunteer" firefighter who was trapped under rubble at Ground Zero for two hours?  Is he any less of a hero because he wasn't a union firefighter?

Biggart says that anti-labor people were using a national tragedy for self-serving political interests, but didn't his email aim to do the same thing?  He's trying to monopolize the heroism of 9/11 firefighters in a way where only union firefighters can be heroes.  Rest assured that those who aspired to be firefighters since they were knee-high didn't do so because they always wanted to be in a union.  They aspired to be firefighters because they wanted to serve their country with distinction, dignity, and honor.

Finally, Biggart's claim of manipulating a national tragedy was aimed at Gorniak.  Interestingly, I have a copy of a letter the same fire union sent to Gorniak back in 2002 thanking him for building the "infamous" 9/11 float.

The Oak Creek Firefighters 1848 would like to recognize Matthew Gorniak for his effort in leading the construction of a Sept 11th memorial float.  This memorial honored all who lose their lives in the line-of-duty.  Matt epitomized the float's theme of "no greater love" as he spent endless hours of planning and preparation.

Firefighters raised the flag over the WTC ruins to symbolize the resolve that makes us American and displayed the pride that makes us firefighters.  Matt's dedication to this project proved to our community that 343 firefighters did not lost their lives in vain.  Oak Creek Fire Department and Local 1848 were acknowledged for our compassion - we are a better union because of Matt's commitment.

So, which is it?  Did Gorniak create the float for political gain or did he do it to honor firefighters' line-of-duty deaths at the World Trade Center?


By definition, fair-share firefighters are union members that opted to have more control over the spending of their social and political dollars.  Despite popular opinion, it's not a decision made by members to harm their unions.  And IF being a fair-share firefighter were truly anti-union, it doesn't justify the allegations that the 9/11 float was a disgrace to the 343 dead firefighters.

People don't see the float with the same lens as Craig Ford and Jerry Biggart.  Gorniak's 9/11 float is a reminder to the public of the personal sacrifices firefighters made to promote the greater good.  As Americans, we shouldn't let anyone redefine the heroism of 9/11 as being "union made."  September 11th is not just a day that will live in infamy, but a day that accentuated the very best that America offers.



Comments (11)
  • Jerry Biggart  - For Aaron R.


    I'd like to talk to you at any time. Unfortunately, I don't have your email address. Since you clearly have mine, please feel free to contact me at your convenience so that we can have meaningful dialogue rather than one-sided jabs on your blog. Your "contact us" option is disabled. The distinct reason why Gorniak did not receive my email is that Gorniak has chosen not to be on that list. As for sending a copy to Gorniak, he is well aware of how I feel on the issues at hand. Please be in touch if you'd like to discuss any of my feelings on what you guys are doing and why you guys are doing it. The only thing that I regret about this situation is that there is clearly someone in my organization that should be standing along side you since they felt it necessary to feed you my correspondence.

    Again, please be in touch.

    Jerry Biggart

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez  - Contacts


    I fixed the "contact us" page on the blog. If you want to talk, I have no problem with that. My viewpoint is that instead of being concerned about the person in your organization sending out your correspondences, you should refrain from writing emails that target fair-share firefighters - firefighters that are still union members who pay their dues. My frustration comes from the deliberate alienation of fair-share members for making the choice to spend their social and political dollars how they deem fit. There is nothing anti-union about that. Feel free to email me your number if you want to talk.


  • Vetta McDonald  - What a Shame

    Unbelievable! A firefighting "leader" thinks his political biases are more important than his fellow firefighters - "brothers." I hope Mr. Jerry Biggart will find a more suitable job for himself, maybe in politics. Someone who misuses his authority, position and influence to do harm to his brother (Gorniak) should be removed period. What a shame that Oak Creek has a leader who terrorizes his own brothers. Why is he any better than those who terrorize our nation? Maybe that's why he doesn't support the float, he supports terrorizing innocent people??? hmmm... As a leader, he should care more about putting out fires with his brothers than bullying them for their money. Clearly Mr. Biggart is not worthy of the trust his position requires. Word will get around and Mr. Bigot will earn the reputation he deserves.

  • Biggart  - Really Vetta?

    Vetta, It's interesting to read your post and I appreciate it. I am a big fan of hearing other people's opinion even if I don't agree. Actually, I'd be stunned if any avid readers of this blog sided with me. What I am not going to do is roll-over because someone plays "gotchya" with an email of mine that is given to them. When I hit the send button I am prepared to stand-by my statements and actions.

    I am interested that you are under the impression that I have misused my authority. I am well within my rights to keep my membership informed, as well as add my feelings on the matter at hand. I can very easily be removed from my position, and if that is the desire of the people I have been elected to represent, I will gladly exit from the position. As for "terrorizing" people, I'm not going to entertain that statement because it is simple and vexatious. Frankly, much of your post is quite hypocritical especially your attempt at name calling and comparing me to a terrorist that flew planes into buildings killing thousands of people.

    Vetta, I am happy to have meaningful dialogue with you at anytime if you can help yourself from the dramatics.

  • Leigh  - Meaningful Dialogue

    Just wondering if you should adhere to your own advise to have meaningful diaglogue with your own "brothers." I suspect that the desire of the people will be heard soon enough.

  • Anonymous  - Don


    Isn't your goal to personally destroy these "fair share" members.

  • Biggart  - Don & Leigh

    There comes a point where trying to reason with someone is just not an option and I'd be remiss if I didn't say that that ship sailed far before the issues of fair share, budget repair, or any Float. You are being an offered a very short snap shot in time and not many years of caustic events that have occurred. Again, I don't expect any viewers of this site to side with me or to believe a word that I say, so we don't need to spar back in forth. I am meerly saying the, what you aren't privlidged to is "the rest of the story." I make every attempt to keep my concerns local and I am not going to play things out through a blog or the media. However, when someone else doesn't like to be told "no" and takes you to those arena, you are somewhat compelled to. I'm sure that there are times in your life where you have tried to effectively communicate with someone and it just doesn't work, so to say that I haven't done that in the past is an allegation that I know is not true. This is not an isolated 2011 issue.

    If someone elects to be fair share it is their issue. People have every right to be fair share and their co-workers have every right to manage their relationship with those people. As you will not, I have not instructed anyone to treat fair share members differently, nor have I made any suggestion of any retaliation. You have the email. What I did is point out something that I feel is a hypocricy to my electorate who have every right to unelect me at their will.

    Have a nice weekend.

  • Anonymous  - Oak Creek Resident!

    This is directed to Jerry!


    Lead, Follow or Get Out of the WAY! You can not lead by bashing your teammates because there views are different from yours. Strong teams are successful because they work together for a common goal, and accept all the members of the team even if they have different views! A true leader accepts people where they are today and leads for the common good!

    My father always taught me to sleep on my thoughts before I write any thing down. Well, I have slept on these thoughts and here are my views. Due to the advise of my father at the end of my statement I will give you my name. I am open minded and always growing as a person.

    I have a number of statements and questions I will make about the e-mail you wrote that is referred to in this blog.

    1. The e-mail you sent out discussed "benefit Concessions" that the union and the city were discussing. In my eyes this appears to be a correspondence that would be important to all union members. By not sending this e-mail to fair-share union members, it appears to me that you are not repesenting all your union members. If I was a fair-share member I would have issue with this matter alone!

    2. Secondly, in discussing these concessions you state that " the gloves are off and this is us vs. them." Well, being an Oak Creek resident and tax payer, I take this comment personal! It appears to me that you have forgotten who pays your salary & benfits! You may work for the City of Oak Creek but the tax paying residences/business of Oak Creek pay YOU! So if you want to fight the city, you really want to fight the tax paying residence/business of Oak Creek, people like me! I think that if you do not like your job and/or the membership in your union you should seek employment outside of Oak Creek!

    In closing I would like to thank the hardworking men & women of of the Oak Creek Fire Department, who put their safety/lives on the line to protect us when we can not protect ourselves.

    Thanks you,

    Matt McBriarty
    Oak Creek Resident!

  • Biggart  - Matt

    Thanks for your comments, Matt.

    I feel that I do lead, just not the way you want me to. You have to remember that I am elected and therefore my actions keep me in that spot or they get me unelected. Those are the risks that all elected people take. So, to say that I am not leading is misleading as I believe that I am doing what the majority of the Membership desires. If not, well, you know the alternative. The only other caveat that I can give you is that you know nothing about the back-story or history of where we are in our internal issues. You were given a one day snap-shot in time with no references or footnotes. Remember, while I stand by my email that was leaked to this site, it was to be shared with 43 other people and further discussed internally. When I hit the send button I have to anticipate someone will release my correspondence which I am fine with. As an elected member of the organization I do have the right to communicate with my members even if you don't agree.

    To your #1: The Fair Share Member's of the Department are not Members of the Union. Simply, that was their decision and we are not in correspondence with them from the standpoint of union business at all (by their choice). Fair Share equates to no membership to the Union. They get what the Union Members get but, again, are not Members. For that they pay hundreds less in dues annually.

    To your #2: The City is proposing cuts to employees that are far greater than are necessary to balance the budget. Further, threats have been made that we find are formally disputable unfair labor practices. The State gave municipalities a hammer. The municipality was allowed to decide how hard they swung the hammer. Oak Creek has a preliminary plan to whack employees much harder than is necessary to balance the cuts from the State and keep taxes at or below the levy limits. I fundamentally think it's wrong.

    I pay taxes too, Matt. All City Employees pay taxes. Unilateral unnecessary changes to dedicated employee's quality of life/living is not acceptable to me and most all employees be it public or private industry. Concessions by Oak Creek workers have been given time and time again in the spirit of cooperation. Working together is what is best for the municipality that you and all tax payers live in at the end of the day.

    Don't discredit unions too much. Much of what non-union workers have is due to unions. Otherwise, we'd all still be making 80 cents an hour like many other countries that never had or were allowed to have a labor movement.

    Take care, Matt -


  • Kevin  - I hate hypocrites

    So Mr. Rodriquez, you say you don't want your dues spent on things for which you disagree even though that lobbying works towards the good of all members (presumptive cancer, FireAct, etc.). What you are really saying is that you want the free ride for ALL the good things your union accomplishes for you but you just want them at cut-rate. You sir are the antithesis of "fare share". You are a hypocrite.

  • Aaron M. Rodriguez  - Nothing to do with hyprocrisy


    I think you don't understand the issue. The government has found reason, probably on the basis of some past precedent, to separate union dues into two pots: the contract bargaining pot and the social/political pot. The former pays to represent my interests as a city employee while the latter, or so the government presupposes, should be a choice ultimately made by individuals.

    You may believe that the portion of my union dues going toward social/political causes are for my better interests, but that is not always the case. Who determines that a union - whether police, fire, or any other sort - knows what is best for me as a composite being. I say composite because the entirety of my life cannot be defined by a job any more than a house can be defined by one of its bedrooms. For instance, what is labor doing to ensure that Wisconsin isn't spending itself into unsustainable debt, isn't raising taxes on job creators, or isn't turning a blind eye to deplorable graduation rates in public schools? All of these issues affect the composite individual.

    When we make financial choices about where to spend our political dollars, we ought to look at the entire house, not just the kitchen. When you can understand that, then you will begin to understand why people choose to be fair share.

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