Biden tries to rally firefighters at convention, skirts local contract

Vice President Joe Biden is surrounded by firefighters Wednesday after addressing annual convention of International Association of Fire Fighters. (See LETTERS, Page 14) CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Vice President Joe Biden is surrounded by firefighters Wednesday after addressing annual convention of International Association of Fire Fighters. (See LETTERS, Page 14) CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: July 26, 2012

VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden told the International Association of Fire Fighters Wednesday that the Republican Party has been taken over by people who want to blame unions for the recession and cut their jobs as a solution.

Citing GOP budget proposals in Congress and efforts in state houses across the nation to scale back collective-bargaining rights for public unions, Biden said the middle-class life enjoyed by firefighters is in jeopardy.

Addressing 3,200 union members, Biden said that former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, means well but doesn't understand public employees like firefighters, police and teachers.

"They act like you're the community problem," Biden said. "As if you're not part of the community. As if somehow you come from some other place. As if you haven't been as affected by this recession as your neighbors."

The IAFF last month endorsed Biden and President Obama for re-election. Biden's speech was at times somber, as he cited two recent deaths of firefighters in Philadelphia and the 1972 car crash that killed his first wife and a daughter. But Biden seemed sapped of energy, failing to deliver the rousing stump speech that usually makes him a crowd- pleaser.

Bill Gault, president of the union's local chapter in Philadelphia said he was "very disappointed" that Biden did not mention the contract dispute the union has with Mayor Nutter.

An arbitration panel on July 2 largely upheld the terms of a 2010 ruling, giving Philadelphia firefighters retroactive pay raises, more money for health care and protection from furloughs. Nutter has until Aug. 2 to accept or appeal that decision.

Gault had asked Biden, through the union's leadership, to push Nutter in the speech.

"I'm disappointed the vice president didn't say: ‘Yo, Mr. Mayor, honor the agreement,' " he said.

The union's national leaders plan a march Thursday afternoon from the Pennsylvania Convention Center to City Hall to protest Nutter's lack of action. Nutter will be in New Orleans for a National Urban League conference.

The Romney campaign responded to Biden's speech by emailing a statement from Fred Donnelly, a 35-year veteran of the Philadelphia Fire Department who retired in January as battalion chief. Donnelly, called Obama "simply out of touch with the struggles that middle class Americans are going through."

Biden wrapped up his speech with a note of cautious optimism about what he called the obstructions by the Republican Party.

"I'm absolutely confident that this will turn around," Biden said of the economy and federal funding for public sector jobs. "The only question I have is when are they going to get out of the way and let us do more of what we can do right now?"

Contact Chris Brennan at 215-854-5973 or email him at brennac@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN and read his blog, PhillyClout.com.

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