IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger Not Running for Re-Election

IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger

A press release from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) indicates that General President Harold A. Schaitberger will not be running for re-election.

Below is the full text of the announcement:

Brothers and Sisters,

This is the most difficult communication that I’ve had to deliver to all of you over my 49 years with this incredible IAFF of ours.

I’m compelled to reflect on the journey that I’ve been blessed with, starting my firefighting career – like so many of you – as a 20-year-old kid on August 1, 1966. Then, in 1970, at the ripe old age of 24, I began the organizing campaign that led to the establishment of my local union in Fairfax County, Virginia – IAFF Local 2068.

As the first elected president of my local, I began to realize the importance and the power of being together as union sisters and brothers under the imprimatur of this IAFF. It helped me recognize early on that the power of being organized could lead to a better life for fire fighters in my county and everywhere.

It also taught me the importance and potential power of political action, a tool that we were able to use in my local to bargain a contract by passing a county ordinance allowing the members of Local 2068 to work under a negotiated agreement, the first of its kind in the anti-union, right-to-work, non-collective bargaining state of Virginia.

Political and legislative success like that ordinance led me to the next chapter in my IAFF journey, when I was asked by a number of local affiliates in Virginia to run for president of the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters (VPFF) in 1973.

At the state level in Richmond, we used the power of political action and legislative advocacy to win the passage of the first heart and lung presumption law in the Commonwealth. That victory was in 1975 and was the beginning of many state legislative advances on behalf of Virginia’s fire fighters.

In the early part of 1976, then General President Howie McClennan called me and asked if I would consider coming to the International on staff as the Legislative and Political Director to help build out our political and lobbying program. Quite honestly, I was stunned by the call and offer. But at that point in my life, at 29 years old, I was completely dedicated to using whatever skills the good Lord had given me to work on behalf of fire fighters and use this incredible opportunity to work on behalf of this union’s members across two great countries.

So, with just 10 years on my department and as a relatively new lieutenant, I left my firefighting career to come to work at 1750 New York Ave., the IAFF’s headquarters, on June 1, 1976. It’s a decision I’ve never second guessed. Those next 12 years were spent building one of the most effective union political and legislative operations in the labor movement, and I’ll let my body of work during those years speak for itself.

My journey continued with the election of Alfred K. Whitehead as General President in 1988, when he asked me to step up and become his Chief of Staff. This again was an extraordinary moment that allowed me to become involved at the highest level of our union, and a right hand to Al as he began to build this IAFF into even more of a powerhouse.

In his work enhancing our union’s programs and services on behalf of our affiliate leadership, Al charged me with being involved in every aspect of his vision in reorganizing, enhancing and creating new departments, resources, services and tools for our leadership within this IAFF.

Then, 12 years later, as Al retired, I was given the most incredible opportunity of my life – an opportunity that I could have never imagined. Being elected as this great union’s General President, and that election was by acclamation.

Through the years, that honor was reinforced through the confidence and support of our incredible affiliate leadership as I was re-elected by acclamation four more times. To be given the chance for 20 years to do everything I could think of to make this union the very best across two great countries is something that I never could have dreamed.

It enabled me to be part of a leadership team, along with an Executive Board and a great staff, that was able to use creativity and innovation to empower our affiliate leaders with the very best tools, services, resources, education forums and operational structures available that would improve our members lives and livelihoods.

Over these 20 years, we witnessed our IAFF membership increase by 119,000, and we’re still growing each and every month even in this challenging COVID-19 environment.

We created our powerful gold and black political brand and program, building our political action committee, FIREPAC, into the top 1% of all federal PACs, which is critical to increasing our union’s influence and power.

We pushed the boundaries of health and safety in those early years with the creation of the IAFF/IAFC Wellness-Fitness Initiative (WFI) and the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT).

Then we took an even bigger step – making a bold decision to invest $1 million to send 1,000 IAFF leaders to the NFPA Convention in Anaheim, California, to control the NFPA rule-making process and pass the historical NFPA 1710 staffing standard – which continues to increase staffing in fire departments and save lives today.

We established our District Field Service Representative (DFSR) program to provide our Executive Board with their own field specialists to deliver direct assistance and support to our locals.

Our response to the horrific attack on September 11, 2001, in New York City and the Pentagon provided in the very first week a $10,000 check to the families of every one of our 343 lost that tragic day. Ultimately, we raised $167 million, with every penny going to the families. Most never knew this IAFF paid for the magnificent memorial service held in Madison Square Garden that honored our fallen. But this union stepped up because the City of New York wouldn’t pay for their own fire fighters to be honored properly.

Together, we created our Guardian legal program that has protected more than 1,000 of our affiliate officers who have been attacked or had adverse actions taken against them for doing their job representing our members.

We rolled the dice and took a chance in establishing our IAFF Financial Corporation (IAFF-FC) in 2003, starting with zero dollars in assets under management. And today, our Financial Corporation’s program manages $12.4 billion in assets, providing millions of dollars back into our union’s budget, paying for programs that don’t have to come out of our members’ paychecks in increased dues.

By embracing and working to expand fire-based EMS, we have created much stronger job security for our members by raising their value to their communities, and we developed the most respected GIS mapping capability in the industry to help our affiliates show how well-structured response saves lives.

There’s also the establishment of the Partnership Education Program (PEP), the Affiliate Leadership Training Summit (ALTS), the life-saving Fire Ground Survival (FGS) program, the expansion of our HazMat training program – along with establishing a sister program in Canada – and so many more education deliverables.

Leveraging our political power, we worked through the U.S. Congress to win the passage of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program and the billions of dollars that have literally created and brought back more than 15,000 fire fighter jobs across the country.

We also won passage of the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) grant program and the billions of dollars that provide equipment, turnouts, SCBA, apparatus, PPE and training to our departments across the nation.  

Our national Political Training Academies in U.S. and Canada have trained IAFF members in high-level political skills so they could harness the power of political action for their locals. And most recently, we created our state and provincial Political Training Academies to give us even more political operatives engaged on behalf of our members.

The Communications Training Academy was developed to empower our affiliates and make sure our voices are heard across the various platforms and channels in this 24/7 news and social media cycle we live in.

We established our own media production company, E-18 Media, along with a fully equipped broadcast and recording studio to support our affiliates and our union’s messaging needs – and we did it by leveraging the assets of our IAFF Financial Corporation.

Following Hurricane Katrina, we created our IAFF Disaster Relief program, assisting members whose homes are damaged while they are on the frontlines responding to disasters. Today, we have expanded that work to include a Go Team of IAFF members experienced in disaster response and four new disaster relief trailers to help them help our own. All of this to service our members in need.

We’ve built programs to promote and help our affiliates embrace diversity and welcome everyone into our union and profession as sisters and brothers united in this IAFF.

We significantly expanded our research and expertise in how cancer is killing our members at alarming rates and have developed critical protocols to reduce exposures to deadly toxins.

Recognizing and focusing on behavioral health and post-traumatic stress has been critical in helping our members struggling with behavioral health issues.

We created our Peer Support teams four years ago, and now have more than 6,000 trained members ready to help their sisters and brothers in need.

We established our one-of-a-kind Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery, which has now provided life-changing and life-saving treatment to more than 1,400 of our own, giving them a new chance in life, saving their careers and keeping their families together. And, we’re now moving to build and open our West Coast facility.

We are on the verge of electing our union’s friends and endorsed candidates as the next president and vice president of the United States.

Of course, all of this is only a partial list of the new ideas, programs, structures, forums and accomplishments that I’ve been fortunate to be a part of to build this IAFF into the powerhouse it is today.

With all of that stated, let’s get to the purpose of this letter.

After dedicating almost 50 years of my life to this wonderful union, I have decided not to run for re-election as your General President.

I have sadly watched as division has been sewn within our ranks. I see much of the anger and politics of personal destruction that have spread on social media. The innuendo, baseless allegations and misleading accusations. There’s no accountability and, that, in my view, has harmed our great union.

This IAFF is too important. I cannot stand by and allow our union to become even more divided.

I know there will be those who will cowardly suggest that I’m bailing, but they will be wrong.

What I’m saying to the leadership and membership of our union is that this union is bigger than me and any single leader or member in this IAFF.

I believe I’ve been, wrongly, the stalking horse of much of the false information, division, anger and rancor that I see taking place in so many of our districts. I know many of you – our affiliate leadership – are hearing it from your members, in many ways replicating what we see in the United States during this current political season and election this November 3.

Just know that I’ve been praying on this decision for some time. I simply came to the conclusion that I’ve had 49-plus wonderful years serving our members. I’ve been blessed every step of the way to be allowed to contribute to the growth and success of this IAFF. I’ll let my body of work building our union’s power and programs speak for me in the years to follow.

As I close out my final term in office, I’ll continue to do what I’ve always done. I’ll remain focused on electing a candidate who has done nothing less than stand with our members for the past 40 years of his political life. I’ll do everything in my power to help Joe Biden become the next president of the United States and our good friend from California, Kamala Harris, become the vice president.

With their election, this union will be afforded the opportunity to participate in the transition and building of the next administration, helping assure that the focus and the new agencies will be committed to our members lives, their livelihoods and our proud profession.

I’m going to work as hard as I always have up to and through our International Convention this January.

I’ll look forward to seeing many of you along the way. And please, always from me… Stay Safe.


Harold A. Schaitberger
General President

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