Irked at Democrats, Firefighters Suspend Federal Contributions

The nation’s main firefighters’ union, long a strong supporter of Democratic candidates, announced on Tuesday that it would indefinitely suspend all contributions to federal candidates out of frustration with Congressional Democrats who, union officials say, have not fought harder against budget cuts and antiunion legislation.

The union, the International Association of Fire Fighters, said it would focus its contributions and energies on state and local races because many legislatures have sought to curtail collective bargaining or otherwise weaken public-sector unions.

Harold A. Schaitberger, the president of the 300,000-member union, said in an interview that he was dismayed with Democrats in Congress for not fighting harder against Republican budget cuts and efforts to weaken unions in more than a dozen state legislatures.

“We’re tired that our friends have not been willing to stand up and fight back on our behalf with the same ferocity, the same commitment that our enemies have in trying to destroy our members’ rights,” he said. “Quite frankly, our enemies are trying to kill us as a labor movement and union trying to represent workers and help the middle class.”

The firefighters’ announcement is a blow to Democrats, because the union often gives far more to Democratic candidates than Republican ones. It donated $1.9 million to Democratic candidates in national elections during the 2010 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, compared with $408,500 to Republicans.

The union’s endorsement is especially coveted by candidates, because of the firefighters’ stature in many communities, especially since 9/11.

Organized labor is a crucial part of the Democratic base, having spent more than $200 million on behalf of the party’s candidates in the 2010 midterm elections.

But many union leaders have complained privately about President Obama for his support of trade deals and for not doing more to enact pro-union legislation or block large budget cuts. Nonetheless, most union leaders are standing with Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats, viewing them as a bulwark against what they see as a Republican antiunion agenda.

Mr. Schaitberger complained that Congressional Democrats were doing far too little to combat ongoing efforts to weaken public-sector unions in Florida, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee and elsewhere. In Oklahoma, the Republican-led State Senate sent the governor legislation last week that would prohibit the state’s 12 largest cities from bargaining with public-sector unions.

The firefighters’ union was disappointed that the Democratic-led Senate and House failed to pass legislation last year that would have given firefighters and police officers nationwide the right to bargain collectively. The union also voiced frustration that Congressional Democrats did not fight harder to prevent cuts in funding for emergency response equipment and training, a move that would have helped prevent the layoffs of firefighters.

Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, “House Democrats are deeply committed to fighting for collective bargaining rights of hard-working men and women.”

Mr. Schaitberger, echoing several other union leaders, said in an interview, “We’re feeling taken for granted” by the Democrats.