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.