Acting Labor Secretary Seth D. Harris addressed the Annual Legislative Conference of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) on Monday. As part of a scathing attack on attempts to reform public employee labor unions, Harris told a joke that he said was “making the rounds a few years ago”:
A unionized public employee, a small-government conservative, and a CEO are sitting around a table with a plate that has a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the conservative and says: "Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."
Ironically, of course, since the IAFF is a public employee labor union, there are no CEOs. Rather, the firefighters work for the taxpayers, hardly the greedy CEOs caricatured in Harris’s joke.
Harris’s assault did not end with the joke. He further accused those attempting to reform public union labor practices as wanting
to tear apart that bargaining table until it's a pile of firewood. Their goal isn't to give you a little haircut; their goal is to cut off your head. Their goal, through a campaign of denigration, distortion and demonization, is to destroy public employee unions as we know them, to eliminate them as a force in American life.
Harris took a further swipe at "pundits and professional political hatchetmen," suggesting that they blamed firefighters and their fellow public union members for the 2008 financial crisis:
It's really unfathomable how many pundits and professional political hatchetmen looked around and somehow decided it wasn't reckless Wall Street shenanigans that crashed our economy under President Bush. Instead, they tell us, it was dedicated public servants barely getting by on middle-class wages. Have any of you ever met a firefighter who got a multi-million dollar bonus? They're as common [as] unicorns being ridden by leprechauns with angels sitting on their shoulders.
Congress (Republicans in particular) did not escape Harris's broadside either. He laid the blame for the sequestration at the GOP's doorstep:
I know that IAFF just celebrated 95 years of standing up for firefighters and the communities they serve. At the Department of Labor, we're having a birthday too — 100 years ago this month, we first opened our doors. And to mark the occasion, Congress sent us a present to both of us — it's called "sequestration."...
[O]ne side in Congress is choosing to further undermine public safety and economic security... because they don't want to close tax loopholes that contribute nothing to growth, because they don't want to ask millionaires and billionaires and the largest and wealthiest corporations to pay a little more.
Harris encouraged IAFF members visiting Capitol Hill on Wednesday to tell members on Congress that the GOP's way is the "wrong path" for the middle class, the economy, and the nation.