WASHINGTON, DC – Three D.C. firefighters are under scrutiny for attending a White House event with President Obama, prompting the unions representing the District’s police officers and firefighters to refuse to participate in a luncheon with Mayor Vincent Gray honoring employees for their work to safeguard last month’s inauguration.
“We’re not going to participate until this administration starts behaving like it’s run by adults and starts treating fellow workers with respect,” said Kristopher Baumann, the police union’s chairman and a frequent Gray critic.
The new frustration from the labor unions, which are in prolonged contract negotiations with the city, stems from an episode last week where three uniformed firefighters stood behind Obama at a White House event without notifying the District in advance.
“I didn’t know about it, the deputy mayor didn’t know about it, the mayor didn’t know about it,” Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe told WRC-TV. “There should be protocol followed anytime one of our employees representing the District of Columbia appears at a public event.”
Ellerbe said he was asking the employees to file reports describing the circumstances of their participation, a procedure the department later said was not a “disciplinary action.”
In a Friday statement, Ellerbe said the department is “simply reviewing its internal protocols for such appearances to ensure both the department and its employees are fully informed.”
But Edward Smith, the president of the firefighters’ union, said taking part in the celebratory luncheon amid an ongoing review would have sent “a mixed message.”
“It definitely seemed inappropriate,” said Smith, who added that it “remains to be seen” whether the review will lead to discipline.
Baumann was more direct in a message to City Administrator Allen Lew’s office and said police officers were “not going to support or provide public relations opportunities for this administration while it persecutes and harasses firefighters and their union at every turn.”
The Gray administration said that Monday’s event, which was closed to journalists, was a sincere effort to thank employees, and official photographs show at least some police officers attended, though no firefighters were visible.
“MPD was most certainly there. Mr. Baumann should probably check with his membership, because rank-and-file members were at the event,” said Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro. “It’s difficult for me to respond to assertions that are incorrect.”
Baumann charged that city officials had circumvented the union to invite select officers.
“They didn’t come through us,” Baumann said.