Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 elects new president

Pat Cleary, who has spent the last 12 years as the union’s vice president, replaces Jim Tracy, who served two terms.

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The union representing Chicago firefighters has a new leader.

Sun-Times file

Chicago firefighters and paramedics have dumped their union president in the continued fallout from a protracted contract fight and lame-duck Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s controversial vaccination mandate.

Pat Cleary, who has spent the last 12 years as vice president of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, replaces Jim Tracy, the two-term president. Cleary easily defeated challenger Rob Tebbens, Local 2’s political and legislative director, with 67% of the vote.

Cleary could not be reached for comment. Neither could Tracy.

A longtime veteran firefighter who worked his way up to battalion chief, Cleary hammered away at what he called the “COVID mandate mishap.”

“Your current president sat with the CFL and the city beginning on Aug. 13, 2021, while a COVID mandate was discussed without notifying or receiving permission from our executive board. Local 2 is the sole bargaining agent for our members — not the CFL,” Cleary wrote on his campaign website.

“Your president acted erratically, and once again, we suffered immensely. We have lived with this mistake for the life of the pandemic, which resulted in tumultuous general membership meetings, suspensions and terminations.”

Pat Cleary, new president of Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.

Pat Cleary, vice president of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 for the last 12 years, has been elected president.

Cleary also campaigned on a promise to deliver the contract Tracy couldn’t.

“Local 2 was the first union to endorse our current mayor, yet we have been without a contract for almost two years. I will exert more pressure to encourage meaningful negotiations, especially when there is a mayoral election coming. To date, there have been no proposals submitted to the city by your president addressing more ambulances, the conditions of our rigs or residency, even though our members have requested these items to be addressed,” Cleary stated on his campaign website.

Cleary also referred to Tracy’s silence during what he called the “disaster” following a city-administered lieutenant’s exam.

“Waiting three-plus years for the city to provide test results that were inundated with errors and then being given multiple eligibility lists and using multiple grading methods is unacceptable. Taking down an old eligibility list and adopting a new eligibility list was then followed by abandoning the new list and reinstalling the old list. As this dysfunction unfolded, the president did not bother to notify the media,” Cleary said.

“As president, I will work to pass a fair promotional testing bill in Springfield,” Cleary said. “Chicago deserves to have a fair promotional testing bill, just like every other city in Illinois.”

Yet another issue is the firefighters pension fund, which now has assets to cover just 20.9% of its liabilities. It is the least funded of the four city employee pension funds.

“Our membership should only have a one-tier pension plan for all members. The existence of a two-tier plan for our newer members with its salary cap and last eight-year requirement must be removed,” Cleary said.

Thirty-eighth Ward Ald. Nick Sposato, a former Chicago firefighter, “came up the ranks” with Cleary and said he considers him a friend.

Sposato called Cleary’s election an “anti-incumbent thing” inspired by political backlash from Lightfoot’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

“People just didn’t like the way the COVID thing was handled,” Sposato told the Sun-Times.

“As you know, policemen and firemen are a little bit right-leaning,” Sposato said. “And the whole COVID mandate — the comply, go into the [online] portal, get the shot, all that kind of stuff — even though a lot of people misinterpreted it. Basically all you had to do was go into the portal and tell ’em if you got the shot or not. Some people resisted that.”

A hearing officer for the Illinois Labor Relations Board ruled last week that unionized city employees fired or disciplined for violating the vaccination requirements must be reinstated and repaid for any lost wages or benefits.

The ruling applies to city workers represented by trade unions or by the AFSCME Council 31 — but did not apply to police officers or firefighters.

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