Uniformed Fire Officers Association President James Lemonda, who wound up second in a three-way contest for secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Fire Fighters earlier this month, will retire when his union term ends in September after 40-plus years as a cop, firefighter and union officer.
In June the UFOA rank and file will elect its nine-member executive board, which Sept. 1 will choose Mr. Lemonda's successor.
The union's 2,600 members include firefighters in ranks from Lieutenant to Deputy Chief, as well as Supervising Fire Marshals and Medical Officers.
Sixth Year at Helm
Mr. Lemonda has been UFOA president for six years and a board member for 12. He started his city civil-service career as a Police Officer, a job he left after five years to become a Firefighter and eventually rise to Battalion Chief.
He campaigned for the IAFF position pledging to reform the national union's financial practices but was defeated by Frank Lima, a Los Angeles Fire Captain.
"This obviously was not the result I was looking for, but the membership has spoken," Mr. Lemonda said during a March 8 phone interview. "I think it is time, as with any election, for the membership to get behind the new elected leadership, and I thank everybody for supporting me and I urge them to continue to voice their concerns."
He had launched his candidacy for secretary-treasurer amid reports of a Federal probe into controversial pension payments the IAFF made to its departing president, Harold Schaitberger.
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of Labor issued subpoenas to the IAFF seeking records involving those payments, which reportedly exceeded $1 million.
IAFF Defended Payments
"The documents requested relate to issues that were approved by the elected IAFF Executive Board over the past 20 years under the guidance of pension actuaries and legal counsel," the union said in a statement.
Mr. Schaitberger denied any wrongdoing, and a source at the IAFF said that an internal review of the payments to him found no impropriety. The damaging publicity came amid friction over the IAFF's early endorsement of President Biden which rankled a significant faction of the union that supported President Trump.
In the video that launched his national campaign, Mr. Lemonda told prospective voters "the IAFF has been built on a good foundation, but recent events have put our union in harm's way." He said in an interview then that "a lot of disturbing information" had been "reported from the International, and basically it comes down to financial responsibility."
Due to the pandemic candidates vying for office at the international, which represents 320,000 members in the United States and Canada, conducted primarily on-line campaigns.
Mr. Lemonda said that his bid for national office helped him grasp the challenges faced by IAFF local unions that are based in anti-union "right-to-work" states, primarily in the southern U.S.
"We are all brother and sister Firefighters—that's our profession," he said. But certainly when you speak to people in different parts of the country there are huge differences that are prevalent just by the simple fact [that] those that live in the right-to-work states can't collectively bargain," he said. "And we should never take our ability to collectively bargain for granted."
In December 2019, the UFOA, as part of a coalition of uniformed superior-officer unions, agreed to a 36-month contract providing 7.95 percent in compounded raises.
Mr. Lemonda said he "remained optimistic" that the union would be able to build upon that deal to resolve outstanding contract issues that are unique to his members.
Last October, the UFOA agreed to defer payment of $39 million in retroactive money owed to its members for raises dating back to 2018 as part of the city's efforts to avoid layoffs.
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.