Philly’s Black firefighters and police officers protest their unions’ Trump endorsements

John Elam,  Philadelphia firefighter and Club Valiants member, said he’d prefer there’d be no endorsements and he wants there to be policy and procedures that include all members if there are endorsements. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

John Elam, Philadelphia firefighter and Club Valiants member, said he’d prefer there’d be no endorsements and he wants there to be policy and procedures that include all members if there are endorsements. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philly Black firefighters and police officers joined together Friday to condemn their respective unions’ endorsements of President Trump for reelection.

Members of the Guardian Civic League, which represents Black police officers, and Club Valiants, which represents Black firefighters, held a joint conference outside Civic League headquarters in North Philly. They said the national chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and Philly’s chapter of the International Association of Firefighters both made their endorsements without consulting necessary parts of their membership.

IAFF 22, Philadelphia’s firefighters

For the IAFF’s [International Association of Firefighters] Union Local 22, their national chapter was one of the first unions to endorse former Vice President Joe Biden back in 2019. The local, however, broke rank and endorsed Trump based on an email poll distributed internally among union members, which only 12% of union members filled out. It was the first time the local chapter has ever endorsed a presidential candidate.

John Elam, a Philadelphia firefighter and Club Valiants member, said their union local’s endorsement negatively affects the way people around the country view the city’s Black firefighters.

“For the most part, the Philadelphia Fire Department has been neutral. We have never endorsed a presidential candidate ever. This is unprecedented. This breaks up a lot of local and national relationships.”

Elam said Black firefighters’ voices aren’t being heard by union brass.

“We serve everyone and we want to be equally represented and equally served just like we serve the citizens, no matter what political background you have, no matter what nationality you are.”

He said Local 22 violated union bylaws by endorsing a candidate without a full union vote, and he invoked the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis when speaking about what comes next.

“We need to get in good trouble. We stand in a united front for the injustice we feel has been done to us. We just want a fair process. There are policies and procedures that must be followed or it gives way to chaos,” Elam said.

Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal condemned the national FOP for endorsing President Trump for re-election, and called on “good-conscience” members to without their dues until voices can be heard. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

FOP #5, Philadelphia’s Police

Philly’s Black police officers, represented by the Guardian Civic League, said they feel misrepresented by the national chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed President Trump without first consulting organizations which represent Black police officers.

Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, the first Black woman elected to the position and former president of the Guardian Civic League, said her group was not consulted before the FOP endorsed Trump.

“They didn’t ask anybody nothing. They didn’t have a process. They didn’t talk to us. They didn’t talk to membership. That’s the problem — if you had talked to membership, you probably would’ve stayed out of it.”

Bilal called on disillusioned union members to withhold union contributions until the endorsements are rescinded.

“We are calling for all our members, not only locally, but nationally, to withhold your membership and take your membership out of the Fraternal Order of Police … out of these unions who endorsed [Trump].”

FOP president Patrick Yoes said in a statement that the largest police union in the country endorsed Trump because of his call for “law and order across the nation.”

“President Trump has shown time after time that he supports our law enforcement officers and understands the issues our members face every day … He has the full and enthusiastic support of the FOP.”

Important differences

Though FOP’s endorsement of Trump and Local 22’s endorsement of Trump may seem similar at first glance, there are important differences. FOP is a national police union and Local 22 is a local chapter of the international firefighter’s union. In terms of size and power, Local 22 has more in common with it’s Philadelphia law enforcement counterpart, FOP #5. FOP #5 did not endorse any candidate, but accepted its parent org’s endorsement of Trump. Rather than breaking rank, they fell in line.

Philly’s FOP Lodge #5 wrote in a statement, “As a chartered member of the National FOP, our union is obligated to accept the endorsement of the National organization that represents over 350-thousand police officers across the country. FOP Lodge #5 did not offer a recommendation of a candidate in the presidential race.”

In contrast, IAFF, the parent org of IAFF 22, endorsed Biden. The local chapter broke rank by endorsing Trump (without the knowledge or consent of many of its members).

Local 22 president Michael Bresnan said, “There is tremendous support for President Trump among first responders and we encourage other IAFF locals to confer with their members.”

In an email to Local 22 members earlier this week, Bresnan added he also made the choice to endorse Trump based on the prospect of Biden implementing mandatory universal health care, which the Biden campaign does not support.

“I firmly believe that if this concept gets enacted our health care will forever be changed for the worse, and too many of our members and their families rely on the coverage they have today.”

In a statement, Philly’s Local 22 leadership wrote, “Local 22 followed it’s [sic] current internal policy when making the endorsement.”

Regardless of internal policy, local IAFF members’ displeasure with their chapter’s endorsement of Trump would suggest that support for Trump is perhaps not as “tremendous” among first responders at Bresnan’s comments suggest.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal