Fighting for Union Equality in Wisconsin
Even though Gov. Scott Walker left public safety employees out of his attack on unions, the president of the Madison fire fighters union protested as if it were his own.
This past February, thousands of people occupied and surrounded the Wisconsin Capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to curtail collective bargaining rights. Among the protestors was Madison Fire Department Lt. Joe Conway Jr., president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 311. Although Walker had exempted public safety employees from the proposed legislation, Conway, other firefighters and the police still chose to stand in solidarity alongside the unions. “Whenever a line is drawn,” Conway said to a crowd of protestors, “we are on the side of all labor.”
During those two weeks of protests, Conway worked with other union reps to arrange rallies, and later helped organize volunteers during the recall campaigns. The scene in Madison was a familiar one for Conway. At just 9 years old, his father -- a retired firefighter and local union president -- went on strike with other firefighters for three days. That memory became an inspiration, Conway says: He’s been Local 311’s president since 1996.
Since so many firefighters have spouses who work as teachers or government employees, Conway and his union felt strongly about supporting workers. “My job is to make sure that all my members of the local, along with the district, get treated fairly and evenly,” he says. “The only way we can do that is [to] make sure all the other public employees get treated fairly and equally.