Shapiro, pledging to preserve binding arbitration, wins Philly firefighters’ endorsement

Josh Shapiro speaks to a crowd during his campaign launch

In this Oct. 13, 2021 file photo, Pennsylvania's Democratic attorney general Josh Shapiro speaks to a crowd during his campaign launch address for Pennsylvania governor, in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

Attorney General Josh Shapiro just won the endorsement of Philadelphia’s firefighters’ union.

It’s not his first organized labor endorsement and likely won’t be the last, but this one is slightly unusual: two of the firefighters’ most recent endorsements went to Republicans, former President Donald Trump and far-right U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette.

But Chuck McQuilkin, who serves as vice president for the Philadelphia Firefighters’ and Paramedics’ Union Local 22, said this decision was easy.

Shapiro’s opponent, GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano, kicked off his general election campaign with a primary victory speech that “made it clear that the days of the unions having any kind of say in the state are over, day one,” McQuilkin said. “To me, right there, that’s all you need to know.”

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The union represents around 4,500 firefighters, paramedics, EMT’s and officers — both active and retired, and a 10-member executive board makes the unit’s endorsements. McQuilkin noted that they’ve been divided in the past over endorsement politics, but in this particular race, it was mostly about policy.

More than a president or U.S. senator, the governor has a lot of direct power over labor law, and there’s one law the firefighters care about above all: Act 111.

Pennsylvania bars emergency responders from striking, but Act 111 gives police and fire unions additional rights in return. They can collectively bargain with the state or their municipality over things like salaries, benefits, and internal discipline through binding arbitration, with disputes decided by a board that includes a member chosen by the police or firefighters. The process can make it easier to lobby for better wages, or contest a firing and protect someone’s job.

The arbitration process has also been controversial, because it has been used in the past to keep police officers accused of wrongdoing on the force. It’s less divisive when it comes to firefighters but no less important to them, McQuilkin said, and though reform attempts have been aimed at police, the firefighters are wary of changes.

Shapiro, he added, will preserve Act 111 in the face of lawmakers attempting to “tweak” the law.

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“That’s basically our bread and butter,” McQuilkin said of the firefighters’ bargaining rights. “Josh understands that. He’s been in our corner for years, and he’s promised that he will not undermine, not let legislators undermine that right.”

Shapiro reiterated that commitment in a statement, saying that as governor, he would commit to “protecting Act 111 and Philadelphia firefighters’ collective bargaining rights,” and that he looks forward to “working together on critical fire-related issues and improving our firefighters’ retirement securities and working conditions.”

“I have fought for good-paying, union jobs and stood up to attacks on the union way of life – and I will always stand with Pennsylvania workers as Governor,” he said.

Since the general election began, Shapiro has far outstripped Mastriano in both fundraising, and endorsement collection. Among other groups, he has backing from around a dozen unions. A group of moderate, Trump-opposed Republicans also recently backed Shapiro.

As in his primary campaign, Mastriano has focused more on grassroots events and has leaned on his considerable social media followings. He has a little less than $400,000 on hand, to Shapiro’s nearly $13.5 million.

He also has a coveted endorsement from Trump that helped him win his crowded primary.

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