PHILADELPHIA, PA – It was old versus young in the election for president of the city firefighters union yesterday – and the kids came out on top.
Battalion Chief Joseph Schulle defeated incumbent President Bill Gault in a 1,736-1,209 vote by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22.
About half the votes were cast by retired firefighters, who broke heavily for Gault. Schulle won an overwhelming majority of current firefighters, many of whom have been working without a contract for most of their careers.
Schulle, an Air Force vet and Northeast resident, campaigned on a pledge to break through the poisonous relationship the union has with Mayor Nutter’s administration, which has continually appealed arbitration awards favorable to the union.
“It’s not all Billy Gault’s fault, but there’s a level of frustration,” Schulle said. “It’s time to attack things at a new angle.”
Even among Philly’s colorful band of labor leaders, Gault was a firebrand. He organized protests against the administration at seemingly every opportunity and often delivered expletive-riddled screeds against Nutter.
Schulle said that while he respects Gault and admires his service, it’s time for a new approach.
“We want to reopen some lines of communication that have been severed just because of some of the animosity between the parties,” Schulle said. “Because it became personal, we came to a complete stalemate on everything.”
Gault, president since 2009, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald provided a statement on Schulle’s election: “The administration has maintained an open dialogue with the current leadership, and we look forward to establishing and maintaining an open and respectful relationship with the new leadership.”
Nutter has contended that the city can’t afford the arbitration awards. His administration estimates the cost to be more than $200 million over five years. Local 22 pegs it at about $60 million.
Schulle takes over in July, but tensions between the union and the city aren’t likely to change overnight. Most of Local 22’s top officers retained their positions, and Schulle said he won’t take stances on specific issues, like health care or furloughs, before the union’s board approves them.
“Team Schulle” promoted a ticket of seven nonincumbent candidates. Only two others won their races, meaning Schulle will have to work with a union leadership made up mostly of people he tried to unseat.
The race got ugly at times. A note on Team Schulle’s Facebook page criticized Gault for drumming up votes among retired firefighters. “They are using misinformation, scare tactics and outright lies to promote their reelection, all the while not outlining one idea on how to accomplish anything,” it said.
Nutter’s appeal of the most recent arbitration award, which included retroactive raises and other benefits for firefighters, is on its way to Commonwealth Court. Meanwhile, the beginning of bargaining for the next four-year contract is quickly approaching.