Also know as Joseph King and Joey King
- President of Pittsburgh Firefighters Local 1, since 1987
- 56 in 2006
- Pushing for 9 to 5 in 2006 with a petition drive and referendum.
Fire union president a scrappy fighterEdit
By Mike Wereschagin, TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Tuesday, June 27, 2006
What you think of a junkyard dog depends on which side of the fence you live on.
Same thing with Joe King.
Take the corruption investigation of former Mayor Tom Murphy.
Murphy and King, the gregarious president of Pittsburgh Firefighters Local 1, cut a sweetheart deal in spring 2001 for a firefighters contract. Soon after, King's union came out in support of Murphy, who narrowly beat then-City Council President Bob O'Connor in the primary.
Three years later -- in April 2004 -- Murphy was on the other side of the fence, arguing the city needed to cut firefighter largesse to stabilize finances.
King bit back. He sent two letters citing his election-eve deal with Murphy, sparking a federal investigation that ended Monday with Murphy's plea agreement.
"He's like a junkyard dog. He's always been that way," said James Malloy, president of the Pittsburgh police union.
Others, like Joshua Bloom, the union's lawyer, said King simply uses every avenue open to him.
King, 56, starts his battles at the bargaining table. If the Brighton Heights resident doesn't get what he wants, he applies political pressure backed by the approximately 650 members in his union.
If that fails, he alerts the media to draw public attention to the issue, sometimes giving thundering speeches in televised council meetings. If that doesn't work, he hits the streets with petition drives, like his current push to reduce the number of City Council seats to five from nine.
"He uses every objective and every tool he can," Bloom said. "I realize that doesn't always make him everybody's best friend."
King could not be reached for comment yesterday.
However, friend and foe alike agree they know where King -- the firefighters' president since 1987 -- is coming from.
"He's got a job to do, and his job is to get the best benefits package for his union," said City Councilman Doug Shields, an aide to O'Connor during the 2001 campaign. "If he doesn't get what he wants at the bargaining table, he tries to get it at the ballot box."
As a result, King's firefighters in Pittsburgh fared better during Pittsburgh's descent into distressed status than any other union, Malloy said. For instance, firefighters still get 112 sick days a year, while police officers in Pittsburgh 150 sick days were replaced with 12 personal days.
"Joey King is probably one of the finest wheeler-dealer negotiators the firefighters union has ever had," Malloy said. "I take my hat off to him. (Former police union President) Gene Grattan and those guys may not like him, but you can't argue with the results."
Grattan and King traded barbs as the city laid off police officers in 2003 while leaving the firefighters' ranks untouched. Grattan accused King of making back-door deals.
King, a Vietnam veteran and master firefighter since 1974, shot back that Grattan was just angry he didn't negotiate as well as King.
Other city unions complain to the City Council that King grabs for contract money even if it means another union will suffer, Shields said.
Malloy's union is one of those. While police deal with aging equipment and staff shortages, Malloy said, firefighters get $1 million a month in overtime. Malloy predicted King's success will catch up with him during the next round of contract negotiations.
"That train's got to come in, and it will -- well, it probably will -- in the next year. I think you'll see an awful lot of firefighters" leave before their benefits get cut, Malloy said. "But before it's all said and done, Joey'll make another deal somewhere."