Union attempting to recast itself as philanthropic group

\Call the Tune\ by Mike Anthony

\”Call the Tune\” by Mike Anthony

Leaders of Mehlville Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters desperately want the public to believe the union is a philanthropic organization that has the best interests of the community at heart.

But that just ain’t so. Local 1889 is a political entity whose goal is obtaining control over taxpayers’ dollars.

Until the April 2005 election for the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors, Local 1889 leadership was very successful in achieving that goal. In fact, we’d be hard pressed to recall an election to that point in which a union-endorsed candidate did not prevail.

A favorite tactic of Local 1889 leaders was to announce their endorsement of a candidate before filing opened in an effort to discourage anyone else from filing. More often than not, no one else filed and the union-endorsed candidate was seated on the board without an election even being conducted.

Perhaps the apex of Local 1889’s control came in late 1999 when the Board of Directors approved a three-year memorandum of understanding with the union that provided increases in employee salaries ranging from 15.48 percent to 19.15 percent over the life of the agreement — not to mention other lavish benefits. We opined at the time that the board had given away the store and were roundly criticized for that opinion. As it turned out, however, the agreement almost bankrupted the district.

Voters in April 2005 ousted two Local 1889-endorsed candidates and elected reformers Aaron Hilmer and Bonnie Stegman to the Board of Directors. In the ensuing years, Local 1889’s image has taken a beating in the court of public opinion.

Heck, even Local 1889 leaders were cognizant of the poor public perception of their organization as they ran a stealth campaign in an effort to elect Michael Klund to the Board of Directors in April’s election.

Local 1889 ended up contributing roughly $78,500 to two committees supporting Klund’s unsuccessful candidacy. That’s a nice chunk of change.

Add that to how much the union spent on its unsuccessful candidates in the 2007 and 2009 fire board elections and that amount totals roughly $131,700.

In an effort to rehabilitate Local 1889’s image with the public, union leaders have attempted to recast their organization as a philanthropic one, doing good works for the community.

Days after the New Year’s Eve tornado struck Sunset Hills, Local 1889 President Nick Fahs and crew coughed up a paltry $1,000 for the Sunset Hills Tornado Assistance Fund — after calling practically every media outlet in town and showing up at City Hall with a huge cardboard blowup of the check. That same day, a Sunset Hills resident contributed $10,000 to the fund, but did so anonymously.

Certainly Local 1889 should be recognized for the charitable contributions it has made over the years, but the union is not and will never be a philanthropic organization. That’s not the reason it exists.

Given the amount of money Local 1889 has spent on lawsuits and unsuccessful candidates over the past few years, we wonder how much money is left in its coffers. Our guess is not much. That said, we wouldn’t be surprised if its days as a local are numbered and it’s forced to merge with another firefighters’ union, perhaps Local 2665.