President of firefighters union says Ohio will be carried by Obama

The battle in Ohio over collective bargaining rights will help President Obama win the critical swing state in November, according to the head of the leading firefighters union.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), said his union plans to tie the Republican presidential nominee to Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who had to pull back on a controversial anti-collective bargaining rights law he championed after a fierce, labor-led backlash.

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“I think that victory in Ohio was the first significant piece of setting the stage for November 2012. … Almost every demographic supported our position,” Schaitberger said. “It was the people who went with us, not just the union. I believe that really sets the tone for Ohio to be an Obama win.”

In November 2011, 63 percent of Ohio voters voted to repeal the law, known as Senate Bill 5, that would have curbed public workers’ collective bargaining rights. Unions across the country poured resources into the state to defeat the law.

“We’re going to connect John Kasich to whoever the [GOP] nominee is,” said Schaitberger. “It will be two peas in a pod.”

The IAFF, more than 300,000 members strong, has yet to formally endorse Obama, though Schaitberger said the firefighters will back the president at the union’s convention in July.

“That endorsement really carries weight with it. It’s not just, if you will, 16 of us in a room taking a position,” Schaitberger said. “When we deliver that, it will have the force of our union.”

The union has begun to play in the GOP presidential primary as well.

Before the Illinois Republican presidential primary last week, the IAFF spent more than $32,000 on online and television ads targeting Mitt Romney, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.

Schaitberger said the impetus for the ads was Romney’s record as Massachusetts governor, as well as positions he has taken against legislation that authorizes federal funds to pay for firefighters’ equipment and jobs.

“That was enough for us to say what we are going to do with him is what we did with Rudy,” Schaitberger said, referring to the 2008 presidential campaign of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “We’re going to chase him everywhere.”

The union leader said the ads were “a little marker” and “let [Romney] know that he will be dealing with us.”

Romney backed Ohio’s collective bargaining law almost two weeks before it was rejected at the ballot box.

The firefighters union members are in Washington this week for their legislative conference and will hear from several lawmakers, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), according to the conference’s agenda.

Last year, the IAFF stopped giving by its political action committee at the federal level because lawmakers were not speaking out against attacks on labor at the state level. The firefighters later reactivated their political action committee, which has more than $3.8 million in cash on hand, according to FEC records.

Schaitberger said lawmakers began to speak out more on the state-level battles that have been involving unions. But the IAFF will remain cautious on who receives its support.

“We’re going to be very deliberate on where our resources go,” the union leader said.