When a powerful labor leader orders a accidental advocate to be silenced..
I detailed this event and subsequent events after one of my interviews with David Ferry of Men’s Health Magazine — in order to spotlight how long and reaching the arms of a national labor leader can be.
The Toxic Job of Being a Hero
I T WAS WINTER 2015 , and Diane Cotter was in the cellar, tearing through boxes. Upstairs, the inside of the tidy…
My concern is the Congressional leaders rely on the General President of the IAFF for support on the many bills they write on PFAS.
If they had to call him to Capitol Hill for a public hearing and ask him the hard questions, for example: ‘ did you receive any perks or incentives in any fashion; tickets, trips, stocks, cash, etc., ‘ from 3M, DuPont, Lion, WL Gore, MSA, etc., then president Schaitberger would not have held such a favorable opinion of the legislator. That is how he does business. It’s called ‘Shunning’.
I know it firsthand. After Eric Lamar’s story in October 2018, I would receive a call from the PFFM President Rich Mackinnon, who I had a what I considered a very good relationship with, working on legislation for Massachusetts on this issue and promoting other firefighter related initiatives through my social media pages. Once the article was published, I received a call from President Mackinnon telling me he was ‘very disappointed in me’ that ‘I posted the article from the union hating Eric Lamar’., my response was ‘Rich, you know Schaitberger has dragged his feet on this and hasn’t said one word about it to’ the fleet’. His response, “well we’re not gonna attach our name to you, you’ve made your choice”..
Schaitberger, Safety and Moral Obligation
Most IAFF members are under the impression that their union is a fierce and vigorous protector of their safety and…
I was shocked, and intimidated. So much so that I called a confidant to let them know about the call, and then I called a colleague to let him know. He advised, “oh yeah, we’ve all gotten those calls when we step out of line, Schaitberger watches social media like a hawk”…
I interpreted that to mean that Harold, who watches my social media made the call to President Mackinnon to put in the order to shun. The problem was, I wouldn’t know how far that order went for another year. But, I suspected it was in full effect when men Paul and I knew could barely meet Paul’s eyes when we walked into a room, and certainly would not speak to us on this issue where we once had open communication.
I would continue to message the legislative group including Mackinnon regularly, and send emails with updates on actions, and asking questions, yet no response would come. Not a word, full radio silence. Of course I felt hurt and angry. Very angry. This was Paul’s own state union. But, it would not stop the messages and questions that I would continue to send.
2019 would roll in and our Massachusetts House Bill H3661 — which I worked closely with PFFM on for support and language. The original intent was to make Massachusetts the first in the nation to write language to rid firefighter turnout gear of all PFAS. I worked closely with State Rep Jim Hawkins of who worked with legislators and PFFM’s Legislative Agent Paul Jacques to ensure the support (over 80 co-sponsors) and full support of the PFFM body. Local 1009 president Michael Papagni was first to message Paul and me that the ‘entire PFFM body voted in favor to act on PFAS in our gear’.. that was such a proud moment. But after the shunning order all communication from previous allies — except ONE , within the Massachusetts union on this subject would also cease.
During the summer of 2019, I would realize there would be no reply’s to my messages asking if I could give a statement on this bill. I turned my attention privately to Rep Hawkins to ask if Paul and I could be at the statehouse in support of this bill and to give a statement.
Jim welcomed our support and statement for the hearing Sept 24, 2019.
On the day of the hearing, I would take the ‘2004 new, never-used turnout gear’ that Dr. Peaslee originally tested in 2017, and came back with the startling results, that led to our ‘underground operation’ of the first in nation study of the actual chemicals used on turnout gear (attached) — a study orchestrated by a fire-wife, a rag tag group of firefighters from California, Chicago, and Salem (MA), who had no experience in this genre, and a nuclear physicist — unlike the manufacturers who sat as voting members of NFPA 1971 who had decades of research experience in every aspect of turnout gear, including the ‘microns’ of permeation of a fabric to the strength of thread, to the balance of a helmet..
Fire Gear Laboratory Test Results
In January 2018, Dr. Graham Peaslee, the Professor of Experimental Nuclear Physics at the University of Notre Dame…
I would bag the gear in a clear bag as I was so concerned about anyone or anything it may come in touch with. Paul would say, “Diane you can’t take that into the State House, it’s toxic”. I would reply, “there are firefighters walking through the State House every day in this gear… only no one knows it’s toxic…”
Paul and I would make the drive from Rindge, NH to the State House, all the while uneasy as we were not asked by the PFFM for a statement, something usually done when a firefighter or spouse is involved in the action being heard at the State House. We were in the midst of the shunning and where about to find out how deep it went.
A clear crisp September day in Boston, the drive was easy enough coming from Rindge and we rolled into downtown Boston close to the State House looking for parking. The firehouse lot we usually parked at on Commonwealth Ave was full so we rode the small streets in back of the State House and Paul let me off behind the State House on a curvy hill where I would walk to the secure front entrance manned by guards and metal detectors, carrying the gear in the clear bag, while Paul would park the Jeep across the Boston Public Garden in a firehouse and meet me inside.
I entered the Statehouse and made it through the metal detection with no questions about the gear. Bill 3661 was to be part of the packet of bills to be acted on at the September 24 at 10am hearings. https://malegislature.gov/Bills/191/H3661
Once through the metal detectors I made my way to the elevators where I saw my colleague Paul Jacques the PFFM legislative agent, who greeted me with a smile and a hug as we normally do. He said, “Oh, you’re here!” and I replied, “yes, we’re here, we weren’t really invited but we are here.”. We rode the elevator together to the 2nd floor and Paul excused himself to make a phone call before entering the Senate hearing room.
I was very anxious at this point but relieved when I saw a smiling Rep Hawkins waiting for me in the ornate wooden vestibule area prior to entering the hearing room, Jim was very happy to see me and showed me how to sign in as I would be giving a statement. He prepped me on what to expect and who was already here and who might be opposing the legislation.
After signing in I opened the doorway that led into the hearing room. A wide but not too deep room that held the legislators desk as wide as the room, then a 6' wooden table with two wooden chairs that the witnesses would speak from. A foot behind that table were the 6' wide heavy wooden benches. There were maybe 4 rows (front to back) of benches in the room separated by about 2 feet between the rows. I opened the door, holding the conspicuous set of bright new turnout gear in plastic, in front of me with my purse swung over my shoulder and immediately caught the eye of President MacKinnon, we stared at each other like two dinosaurs, neither one expressing a smile or a greeting to the other. President MacKinnon and I held that stare for as long as I could stand in the doorway while people were waiting to enter. Next to President Mackinnon was Commissioner Finn, Boston legislative agent Michael O’Reilly and PFFM Secretary Billy Cabral. Each met my stare with not an so much as an ounce of acknowledgment. Not one member acknowledged me or asked me to come in.
I scanned the room and found an empty bench at the front of the room.
I watched as my colleague entered the room and was greeted the way one would expect a advocate and supporter to receive. I sat alone and waited till Paul came in; grateful he didn’t see the unwelcome I received.
We’d watch as the rep from the Fluoro Council gave her spiel on how good PFAS was for our turnout gear and then watch as the Senator was in absolute disbelieve and even asked her if she ever heard of ‘West Virginia and.. went so far as to ask her if she really believed what she was telling us!!! I was in shock! It was fantastic!!!
While the Fluoro Council rep was singing the praises of PFAS in firefighter gear I would I would approach Billy Cabral in the back of the room who I would engage in conversation about the concerns Dr. Peaslee had.
Then Paul and I were asked to give our statement. We read it just as I’ve printed it with supporting statement from Dr. Graham Peaslee. https://dianecotter.medium.com/statement-in-support-of-hb3661-by-diane-cotter-with-supporting-text-from-dr-graham-peaslee-5fe8590fed3d
We sat 12 inches in front of the PFFM President and Boston Leg agent. I would recognize the Boston Legislative Agent again in January 2020 when I saw his posts on Twitter calling me a attention seeker and Graham Peaslee a fraud :
( This Twitter exchange was when I blasted the IAFF for stealing the 2.2. million dollar study that was awarded from Senator Shaheen’s office by the work Dr Graham Peaslee and I advocated for. Up until one week prior to the announcement of the NIST study, IAFF knew nothing. They were asked if they would support it and they said ‘yeah, sure’. That. Is. All. But in a video the IAFF is promulgating that they secured it. I knew this to be part of the Schaitberger act of ‘slight of hand’, to look like you are doing something good when in fact you are doing something evil. In my rant I spoke of Schaitberger being a chameleon and hiding the truth from the union members. Worse, in that video Pat Morrison and Rachel Segal of the IAFF H&S team are promulgating the volleyballs and tennisballs dialogue of Lion Gear.
The Exact Same Dialogue.)
See Lion Gear’s Fireside Chat here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MaKd6XC_60
And the IAFF Fights Back of Jan 2020: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=167741317828229&ref=watch_permalink
It’s the ‘volleyballs and tennisballs’ that give it away…
Other serious firefighter matters were taken up at the Massachusetts Senate Hearing that September day in 2019 , and when the meeting was adjourned everyone left the room without speaking to Paul or me. Paul and I would walk back through the Boston Public Garden and over the cobble stoned streets not speaking, I don’t know what either of us expected, but he served as a executive board member of his union and I sensed he was gravely disappointed in the unwelcome we received.
On the ride home I’d get a call from a colleague who asked me how it went.. I would reply, “it went great, you should have seen how then chairman raked the Fluoro-Council rep over the coals! It was magnificent!! But, no one acknowledged Paul… or me… “ He exclaimed *#!* WE WERE ALL TOLD NOT TO ASSOCIATE WITH YOU!!!! We were told to have nothing to do with you!! I said, “SHE’S BEEN SCREAMING FOR OUR HELP FOR 3 YEARS!! I’m working with her!!”
To this day, this leader has stood by our side. Despite being told not to.
It was at that moment my disappointment turned to rage. Anger in forms I can’t describe. To know what I’d felt wasn’t my imagination but was an order that came from the TOP. I then began a balls to the walls campaign of telling what I knew about this charade.
If Schaitberger ordered the PFFM to shun us for posting the Eric Lamar article he has succeeded. If President MacKinnon took it upon himself to shun and ordered leaders to do the same to Paul and I, that is worse.
In October 2019 while in the White Mountains, I’d receive a call from a colleague who had tried to mediate a reconciliation.
The terms were that I would have to apologize to the union, and that I’d remove my derogatory posts about the union.
Neither would happen.
This event happened 3 years ago. I’m sharing publicly now as both the Men’s Health article and now the Worcester Telegram’s Brad Petrishen Special Report refer to it by what I call it — ‘the shunning’.
IMPORTANT UPDATE — DECEMBER 3, 2021
IAFF General President Ed Kelly has mentored a renewed understanding between President MacKinnon of the PFFM and Paul and me.
We are extremely humbled and grateful for this action as we work towards legislation and justice for all firefighters impacted by PFAS in your turnout gear.