Schaitberger Addresses Women in the Fire Service Conference
April 1, 2005 – Speaking to a crowd of more than 400 women fire fighters, IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger pledged to fight for a fire service that is representative of the values, beliefs and philosophies espoused by the IAFF and Women in the Fire Service, host of a four-day conference at the Marriott Bethesda North Hotel and Conference Center in Montgomery County, Maryland.

“Achieving diversity in this profession, and the IAFF, is not just something to work towards, but that we must actually accomplish,” he said. “I am hopeful that we can establish in the hearts and minds of every fire fighter that the IAFF is their home – that they will be embraced as our sister or brother, regardless of their gender, race, religion or sexual preference.”

Schaitberger shared examples of the International’s efforts to promote and facilitate the participation of women in the fire service, Through the IAFF’s Legal Guardian Policy, which provides legal representation to protect the rights of local union leaders and members when they have been subjected to discrimination and retaliation by their employer, the IAFF has represented numerous female fire fighters in legal battles.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the IAFF is representing four female fire fighters who were sexually harassed in the workplace. Management officials in this case either participated in the harassment or allowed it to occur and to continue. “This is an extremely significant case where the harassment of these members has essentially stopped,” Schaitberger explained. “But we are looking for full justice for our sisters to ensure that this kind of discrimination does not occur again in the future.”

In another Guardian Policy case, the International is representing member Teresa Varden who was fired by the city of Alabaster, Alabama. “Varden had successfully served the city as a fire fighter for more than nine years. But when the city decided to implement the ‘Combat Challenge’ physical agility test for some – but not all – fire department incumbents, Varden did not pass this invalid test in the time allotted by the city,” Schaitberger explained.

She was terminated, even though several male fire fighters at the captain rank and higher were not required to take the test.

“We are not only challenging the test as unfair and improper,” Schaitberger continued, “but we are going to fight hard for Varden to get her job back with full backpay.”

The General President recounted the story of another Guardian Policy court action, where the IAFF is actively representing Bristol, NH Local 4399 President Margaret Winn, who was discharged by the town of Bristol when she became pregnant.

“I stand before you today to say that we will be standing shoulder to shoulder with Margaret Winn as she seeks full relief for violations of her First Amendment rights of free association and free speech and her right to be free of discrimination – period.” promised Schaitberger.

In closing, Schaitberger noted, “While these cases are a small piece of our programs to protect the rights of all members and the diversity initiatives we have put into action, they are also the very important building blocks of a successful program that we are committed to. And I promise to you that we will continue to make it the rule for this union – rather than the exception that it may have been in the past.”


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