People We Love: Mahlon Mitchell

A Wisconsin firefighter protests for collective bargaining.
Mahlon Mitchell

Mahlon Mitchell has two brothers who are firefighters,  and he wanted to be one since childhood. At 33, he became a union leader—both the first African American and the youngest president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin.

Only a month later, ­Mitchell’s union was in the national spotlight. Protesters occupied the Capitol building in Madison in response to a budget bill that cut public employees’ rights to collective bargaining. Firefighters were exempt, but chose to protest in solidarity, and Mitchell emerged as a spokesperson for workers’ rights.

“The ability to sit down at the table with your employer and talk about hours, wages, and working conditions is not a fiscal matter,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell believes that collective bargaining allows unions to make the same sort of contribution he values in his job as a firefighter. “It’s community,” he says, “and helping people every day.”


  • Firefighters weren't directly included in the anti-union bill that sparked the protests in Madison. Lieutenant Mahlon Mitchell on why they're taking to the streets, anyway.

  • How Americans across professions, religions, and states are uniting in opposition to Wisconsin's anti-union bill—and cultivating a movement that reaches far beyond the state border.


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