Biden Hails Middle Class; Philly Firefighters' Union 'Disappointed' With Speech

Vice president addresses national firefighters union at PA Convention Center.

Following Vice President Joe Biden's remarks to the national firefighters union where he praised its members and all middle-class workers, it was what he didn't say that irked the Philadelphia firefighters union president.

Local 22 President Bill Gault said he was discouraged with Biden for refraining from taking a position encouraging Mayor Michael Nutter to abide by an arbitrator's decision about the Philadelphia Fire Department.

"I'm disappointed that the vice president didn't say: 'Mr. Mayor, you should honor your agreement.' It's a very simple sentence," Gault said.

Nutter has until August to appeal an arbiter's decision to put into place a contract for the firefighters, which would award back pay and salary increases. The administration challenged the original contract for being financially ruinous.

In statements to the press, Nutter's staff hasn't revealed the mayor's intentions.

The International Association of Firefighters previously endorsed President Obama's reelection effort, and Biden, who national union president Harold Schaitberger hailed as a long-time fire fighter supporter, criticized Republican governors and Mitt Romney's campaign for their "misguided" cost-cutting plans for public safety workers.

"A lot of you guys and women have been on the chopping block... The Republican Congress has obstructed our efforts to help you maintain your jobs and keep enough people on the force to protect your lives. Most people don't know out there that your lives are in jeopardy when you respond without a full compliment of fire fighters," Biden said Wednesday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, site of the union's national convention.

"It's not that (Republicans) don't care. It's that they don't fully understand."

Gault said it wasn't just Republicans, but the vice president and all politicians that don't understand.

Democrats, Republicans, "right now they are all the same to me. These politicians are all the same..." he said. "When did public safety become the enemy? We put our lives on the line. We shouldn't be lumped in with all public sector workers."

Overall, the remarks from the vice president and former Delaware senator were marked by loud applause and supportive union members, who displayed yellow-and-black "IAFF Firefighters Support Obama-Biden" signs.

Biden emphasized that the administration wanted to help middle-class workers and public sector employees. He bemoaned the economic recession, which he reminded people that Obama inherited, and partisan bickering that's hurting citizens.

"I'm absolutely confident that we will turn this around... The only question I have is when will they get out of the way and allow us all to do what we do best," he said. 

"This is a different breed of cat. We didn't use to have these fights. When I was in the Senate and House, we had Republicans who were supportive, who understood the value (firefighters) provide to each community," he said.

Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor, has attempted to support public safety workers struggling under the Obama administration, but also publicly stated his opposition to hiring more firefighters and police officers.


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