The White House announced late last Friday that Vice President Joe Biden and members of the Cabinet will skip the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Providence, R.I. because they want to avoid crossing the picket line of a local firefighter union dispute.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs claims that the White House is not taking any sides on the issue:
“We have always respected picket lines, and administration officials will not cross this one.”
It’s not just the Vice President and Cabinet members who are staying away , but also nearly “100 other federal officials and their staff” who were expected to meet with mayors gathered from across the country to specifically address issues with the stimulus.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors was understandably not too happy:
“This goes beyond the vice president and the Cabinet,” said Thomas Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “We’re shocked. This has never happened in the history of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. These people have been confirmed for two weeks. They committed to this. We met with President Obama’s staff to design this conference and now the Office of the President is pulling out at the request of a [firefighters] union. It’s unprecedented.”
The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ executive director also accused the White House of escalating a local labor issue and taking sides:
“This is a local labor dispute that the International Association of Fire Fighters has taken to the White House. … We had high hopes for this administration. In a way, the White House has taken sides with the unions against the mayors.”
Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline refused to bow to the firefighters union’s request that he step down from his duties as host to allow Obama Administration officials to attend. Ciclline, in a thinly-veiled jab, said, “my parents raised me better than that.” The Conference’s executive board voted unanimously to support the Providence mayor.
Given the choice between attending a conference to help implement the much-vaunted stimulus or appeasing a local labor union’s demands, the Obama Administration deferred – not too surprisingly now these days – in favor of its favorite constituency.