As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to transition into his role as chief executive of the U.S., a prominent organization representing the nation’s firefighters is celebrating his victory — and its involvement with his campaign.
The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) was a major supporter of Biden’s presidential race, backing the candidate from the announcement of his bid through Election Day via contributions and events. Mark Woolbright, vice president of IAFF’s 2nd district covering Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas, said the group’s advocacy for Biden was based on his support of their industry over his career.
“He’s got quite a record over the years of supporting our issues, whether it’s benefits, staffing, or equipment,” Woolbright told The Missouri Times. “He’s been at the tip of the spear when it comes to making sure firefighters have what they need for proper health and safety and the tools they need to keep saving lives.”
Woolbright, a Missouri native and former legislative affairs director for the Missouri State Council of Firefighters, said Biden had been a supporter of the nation’s first responders, both during his tenure in the U.S. Senate and his time as vice president.
IAFF, which represents more than 320,000 firefighters across the U.S. and Canada, pointed to his sponsorship of the Public Safety Officers Benefit (PSOB) program which provides benefits for families of fallen firefighters and several grant programs and funding boosts to help first responders as reasons for its endorsement. Biden also supported bargaining power for first responders, protected pensions and retirement benefits, and supported 9/11 responders, according to Woolbright.
The group also backed Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, noting her history of supporting similar legislation and grants designed to help first responders and their families.
“It has been a long and unconventional journey to Biden’s election, and the IAFF has been with him all the way,” IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger said in a statement. “Our union has been proud to show our steadfast support for Joe, just as he has shown his support for working men and women throughout his political career.”
Woolbright said he interacted with the president-elect several times, personally escorting him to a rally in St. Louis and attending the Democratic debate in Iowa in January. Woolbright said it was a privilege to spend time with the candidate and be involved with his campaign.
“Coming out of Iowa and finishing where we were hoping to, with our candidate serving us and winning out of a crowded primary, it was unbelievable,” he said. “It was very exciting to be involved in such a huge campaign.”
Woolbright said the rise of COVID-19 took much of the group’s attention away from the race, redirecting it to focus on acquiring PPE and responding to emergency situations in a changing world as the campaign itself shifted away from large events.
He said the organization’s pick of candidates rested more on the candidate’s relationship with first responders than his or her policy work.
“We’re loyal, and we support those who support us, regardless of their party affiliation,” Woolbright said. “Once you have a proven record, we don’t turn our back on you. It’s not about the broader social issues; we look at issues related to us and back our candidates based on their record. We draw the picture that this is the candidate that’s best for our industry, and we support them.”
Woolbright said the organization backed several Republican candidates in Missouri-focused races this election for their records on first responders, including Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Congresswoman Ann Wagner, and Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Woolbright called the experience “exciting” and said it was a privilege to be involved in the campaign.
“It was one of those things where, at the end of the day, you’re very happy to be a part of the success,” he said. “It’s very important to remember we don’t walk away from those who help us, no matter their party.”
Biden saw similar support from other union groups, including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).