GERARD FITZGERALD: Stung by dues-hike rejection.

Rank-and-file members of the Uniformed Firefighters Association have rejected a dues increase by a vote of 2,779 to 2,034, according to Gerard Fitzgerald, the UFA president.

Under the proposal, the dues would have gone from $29.10 to $38.15 every two weeks. Currently, $23.85 goes to the UFA, with $3.25 earmarked for the Washington, D.C.-based International Association of Firefighters and $2 going for the UFA’s scholarship fund.

A huge hike in the dues charged to the UFA’s retired members was approved, however, by one vote, 2,381 to 2,380. Retiree dues will more than triple, from $18 to $60 a year.

Expenses Piling Up

Union officials say that it has not has had a dues increase in 16 years and that in that time costs of operation have gone up, including the salaries and benefits of the UFA’s clerical workforce, represented by the Office of Professional Employees International Union Local 153.

A UFA member who spoke conditioned on anonymity told this newspaper that the rejection of the proposed increase was based on the union's paying $1.2 million annually to the IAFF.

“I would agree that we don’t get the full measure of what we give to the IAFF, but we are the biggest local in the nation, and sometimes the way it works is the big guys support the little guys,” Mr. Fitzgerald said in a phone interview.

He said that the IAFF’s post-9/11 response was the best example of the UFA getting a major return on its investment in the form of national advocacy for the passage of the Zadroga Act and Congress’s recent vote to permanently fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

Helped in Albany, Too

“And, if you take a close look at all the progress we have made with gaining ground in Albany on our presumptive bills linked to heart disease and cancer, that all can be traced back to the medical research funded by the IAFF,” he said.

Retired Firefighter Kenny Specht, who ran against Mr. Fitzgerald three years ago, thinks that the rejection of the dues increase is an indicator of dissatisfaction among the rank and file with the union’s direction.

“Is this current executive board going to understand the significance of this?” he asked. “When I ran three years ago, I raised the issue of a dues increase to get ahead of it, because if I won I didn’t want there to be any surprises. I understand that the union’s costs have gone up and they need an increase.”

A source close to the leadership of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association said that under the leadership a decade ago of John J. McDonnell, the union opted to provide for an automatic dues increase pegged to whatever annual pay increase the members received from their latest contract.

Forces Responsibility

“Because we represent so many ranks within the FDNY, we pegged it to it being 1 percent of a Captain base-rate pay,” he said. “Otherwise what you end up with is what you have with a politician who never raises the taxes on an entity even as the prices continue to go up.”

Mr. Specht, who is contemplating another run at the UFA presidency in May, said he disliked any automatic dues mechanism. “I think when that happens it does not lend itself to the executive board and having to come back and make their case to the members.”

Oren Barzilay, president of District Council 37’s Local 2507, which represents the Emergency Medical Technicians and Fire Inspectors, said that dues for his members were set by DC 37’s parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“It changes each year in January based on whatever our pay is for the coming year, and it’s set at 1 percent of that,” he said.

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