Slow Burn

IF YOU THOUGHT the situation at the Minneapolis Fire Department couldn't get any worse for Chief Tom Dickinson and Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, think again: While the mayoral election looms ever closer, Frank Boerboon, president of Fire Fighters Association of Minneapolis No. 82, warns that the MFD may find itself flooded with lawsuits. "I know of 37 members--individuals--that are in the process of filing with the [federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] or with the [state] Human Rights Department because of a hostile work environment," he says. "And after they file, you might see the union follow with a class-action suit. It's not the nature of firefighters to go out and complain. But that's how bad things have gotten."

As the MFD has racked up well over $1 million in penalties and legal costs for failing to comply with a 25-year-old court order to integrate the department, the mayor has never so much as reprimanded the chief. One explanation may be Dickinson's partisan loyalty--to the point of reminding Sayles Belton of the grudge she apparently holds toward the union for its endorsement of John Derus, her opponent in the 1993 race. In a September 1995 letter about a new site for the Fire Museum, written to Sayles Belton on city stationery, Dickinson lambastes three union officials: "This is the same group that deceived you on their endorsement for mayor. While I regret pouring salt in an old wound by bringing up the endorsement issue, you did ask me to remind you if you ever forgot that they were never to be trusted again." The mayor may be able to trust the chief to look out for her interests, but the hundreds of firefighters working for the union should perhaps have a different opinion.

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