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Publication Date: Friday, June 22, 2001

"It's unfortunate when things that should be decided in other arenas get politicized. In reality the fire department should be dealing with this themselves, and although good things might come out of electing someone who wants to get more women in, it's usually not for the right reasons." @dropname:Terese Floren, executive director, Women in the Fire Service

Firefighters union head takes exception to Lieber's comments Firefighters union head takes exception to Lieber's comments (June 22, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

Dale Kuersten, head of the Mountain View Professional Firefighters Union, is upset by Council member Sally Lieber's recent criticism of his views on diversity within the Mountain View Fire Department. Lieber, who is running for state assembly next year, was displeased with comments Kuersten made last week in a conversation initiated by Lieber to inquire about the union's endorsement. Lieber objected that Kuersten said some union members worry that she wants to bring women into the department at the expense of the firefighters' safety. After receiving a letter from Lieber in which she expressed displeasure with this assertion, Kuersten said he is "furious about this. I'm hurt and disappointed that someone who wants to run for a state position has already violated the trust of the local fire department." Kuersten said that he did not tell Lieber he had any problems with her position on getting women in the department, and was only telling her what he has heard from union members. Lieber said she objected to the implication that wanting more women in the department is a negative, and said she is more labor-friendly than her opponents, Council member Rosemary Stasek and Rod Diridon, Jr. of Santa Clara. Kuersten questioned Lieber's claim, noting that because the City Council deals with labor issues in closed session, she has only her own word to back her assertion. "How do we know that she supports us?" he asked. "They have a pretty good ability to guess who has done what in the closed sessions by what information they get back," Lieber countered. Kuersten questioned Lieber's motives in going public with the conversation, emphasizing that in his two-and-a-half years as union head, this was the first conversation the two have had. "The thing that appalls me the most about the whole thing is her violation of trust of a private conversation," said Kuersten. "This says a lot about her character." But Lieber said that for her, the issue is that her stance on bringing more women into the department was brought up at all. "The fact that an issue like this would even be a part of the discussion is outrageous to me," she said. The issue of recruiting more women for the department has proven to be a touchy one. The issue has not been formally brought to the council, although Stasek raised the question in 1998 during a council discussion about hiring paramedics. Kuersten says he worries that politicians will lower performance standards to allow more women into the force, and he also questions the political motivation for recruiting more women. "What is the compelling reason to hire more women than men? Is the community of Mountain View saying to politicians-because I'd like to know - 'We want more women than men?'" Kuersten asked. Lieber has not proposed changing Mountain View's hiring standards, but said she believes they can be changed to accommodate women without being lowered. Terese Floren, executive director of Women in the Fire Service, a Wisconsin-based group that advocates bringing more women into firefighting, agreed that cities can indeed change standards without lowering them. "The question is whether the standards measure what you need to do the job," said Floren. Ultimately, Floren said the issue of recruiting women needs to be decided separately from other union business and the political process. "It's unfortunate when things that should be decided in other arenas get politicized. In reality the fire department should be dealing with this themselves, and although good things might come out of electing someone who wants to get more women in, it's usually not for the right reasons," said Floren.


 

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