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Publication Date: Friday, June 15, 2001

Lieber takes issue with firefighters union head Lieber takes issue with firefighters union head (June 15, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

"I find it unacceptable to be told that my efforts to see that women are recruited into the Fire Department is a 'problem' when it comes to endorsing my candidacy." @dropname:Sally Lieber, Mountain View City Council member

"We discussed the perception that ... [Lieber] had an allegiance with Rosemary Stasek's position that we're going to get women in the fire department come hell or high water." @dropname:Dale Kuersten, president, Mountain View Professional Firefighters

In her quest for endorsements for her 2002 state assembly bid, Council member Sally Lieber this week had a run-in with the head of the Mountain View firefighters' union over what she says is the union's reluctance to accept women as capable of fighting fire. According to Lieber, Dale Kuersten, president of the Mountain View Professional Firefighters, told her that despite her support for the union and labor issues in general, there is a perception among union members that she wants to hire women into the department at the expense of public safety.

In a letter to Kuersten that Lieber delivered Monday, she wrote, "I must tell you that I am deeply troubled by some of your comments about problems you have with me. Specifically, I find it unacceptable to be told that my efforts to see that women are recruited into the Fire Department is a 'problem' when it comes to endorsing my candidacy."

In the letter Lieber also points out that she spent 10 years as a construction worker. "I know about the difficulties women face when breaking down gender barriers in the workplace. I was told over and over that I couldn't do a 'man's job.' I did. And millions of other women have as well," she wrote.

Kuersten said Wednesday that he had not yet received the letter, but that the Mountain View Fire Department is "behind the curve of other departments in having women in the fire department."

He said that among the firefighters, there is a perception that Lieber and Council member Rosemary Stasek, who is running against Lieber for the assembly seat, consider diversity a priority.

There are currently two women firefighters in the department.

Kuersten said he is concerned that Stasek wants to lower the physical standards for firefighters, and he asked Lieber whether she wishes to do so, too.

"We discussed the perception that ... [Lieber] had an allegiance with Rosemary Stasek's position that we're going to get women in the fire department come hell or high water," said Kuersten.

But Kuersten said that Lieber told him that she was not of this opinion.

"That's something that I believe in, in recruiting women to the force, and I take offense at him holding that against me," said Lieber.

Lieber said that Mountain View uses "different physical standards than some of the other cities in the county," which make it harder for women to become firefighters.

"I don't think it's a question of lowering the standards. That's how [Kuersten] is trying to portray it, but it's changing the standards ... I think it's inappropriate to say that we would be lowering our standards and endangering the public to allow women on the force," she said.

Lieber contends that in her time on the council, she has shown herself to be the most labor-friendly candidate in the Democratic race for the assembly seat, in which she is opposed by Stasek and former Santa Clara County Supervisor Rod Diridon, Jr.

"I am a strong supporter of union issues. Tell me what the problem is. If it's that I'm a woman, then tough, they'll have to deal with it ... If their issues are keeping out of the fire department, and keeping women out of office, I don't think that's in accord with what the public expects," said Lieber, adding that she has supported the union-endorsed paramedic program in the department.

Kuersten said that Diridon has also contacted the union to discuss endorsements, but that the firefighters have not yet made a decision.

With the letter to Kuersten, Lieber included a copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, which she recommended that Kuersten read. "I think you'll find interesting the stories about how women working in America's factories - 'Rosie the Riveter' - provided the Allies with the muscle needed to win World War II," Lieber wrote.


 

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