Rick Wood/Journal-SentinelAn Oak Creek, WI fireman who invoked an obscure provision in Wisconsin state law to opt out of his union's political activities says that the union local that had initially supported his parade float has since backed out upon learning that he's a "fair share" union member
Under state law, public employees can drop out of the union and opt to pay just their "fair share" for the cost the union incurs for negotiating contracts. These nonvoting employees don't have to foot the bill for the union's political, social and ideological activities.The theme of the parade float is the now-famous photo of the three New York firefighters raising the American flag amid the wreckage at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, with local firemen standing in for the FDNY firefighters in the photo.
Officials say it is highly unusual for Wisconsin firefighters to ask to go fair share. But [Oak Grove FD Lieutenant] Gorniak - who describes himself as a born-again Christian who supports conservative politicians, including Gov. Scott Walker - filed his resignation letter and became a fair-share worker in late March or early April. He said he made the move in response to the protests in Madison over Walker's collective-bargaining plan.
The move is so rare that union officials are still, months later, trying to figure out how much Gorniak should pay to cover negotiating costs.
In 2002, Gorniak and members of his church constructed the float that appeared in three different parades in Milwaukee County. It remained in storage until recently, when Gorniak and others were kicking around the idea of refurbishing it and participating in the Racine, WI Fourth Fest parade. Organizers of the Fourth Fest and the IAFF Local 321 were on board with Gorniak's float- at least until word got back to Local President Craig Ford. Gorniak said Ford, the union president, was on board initially.
"I think he would have hugged me at first," Gorniak said of Ford. The two even agreed to bring in a New York City Fire Department firefighter to march in the parade, with Racine picking up the cost. Gorniak continued, "I was beside myself with joy."
All of that changed a few days later.
"Craig said, 'I've got a question for you: Are you fair share?'" Gorniak said. "I said, 'What does that have to do with anything?' "
Ford decided to take the parade issue to his executive board. Before the vote, Gorniak said, he offered to back out and turn over the keys to the truck, letting Ford and other Racine firefighters lead the float through the parade.
It didn't work.
Gorniak said he was told a few days later that the board had voted not to support the float.
"The float is coming anyway," Gorniak said. "I'm going to run it with or without firefighters."
In 2002, three firefighters stood atop the float, and others from several South Shore fire departments walked solemnly along behind, often with their helmets under an arm.
Gorniak said he is offering an open invitation to any firefighter - union or not - who would like to join the float at Monday's parade.
The last thing he wants, he said, is the homemade tribute to become the latest battle ground in the state's collective-bargaining wars.
"I want to touch our community," Gorniak said. "I'm hoping patriotic people are out in droves, and they don't see this as union or nonunion."
While Ford and IAFF Local 321 officers in Racine may not have wanted anything to do with Gorniak's float, there have been requests for the float to appear in a parade for the upcoming Burger Days in Seymour, WI and South Milwaukee's Heritage Days parade, and its looks as though the float will still participate in Racine's Fourth Fest.