Lawmakers Push to Enact Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Safety Workers

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Once again, lawmakers are pushing legislation to force all states to mandate collective bargaining rights for public safety workers – police, fire fighters, EMTs and their colleagues.

But if past is prologue, the measure will pass the Democratic-run House, as it has on occasion ever since the Sept. 11, 2001 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks – and fall victim to a Senate GOP filibuster. Or Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., won’t bring it up at all.

That's what happened the first time the fire fighters campaigned for it, in late 2001-2002, just after the attacks, when the collapsing World Trade Center killed 343 New York fire fighters trying to rescue people there, plus their priest. Senators praised their sacrifice, then killed the bill.

The measure, sponsored this time by Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would tell those states that if their public safety workers unionize, on the state, county or city levels, those workers have the mandated right to collectively bargain over working conditions.

Right now, 20 states ban such bargaining, even where the workers are unionized. The prime offenders are two big right-to-work GOP-run states, Texas and North Carolina. The Carolina ban is so broad that a decade ago, the AFL-CIO lodged a formal complaint with the International Labour Organization over the Tar Heel State’s restrictions.

In late April, the AFL-CIO formally endorsed this year’s legislation, HR1154, in a letter to lawmakers from Legislative Director Bill Samuel. The measure has 59 cosponsors.

“The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act historically received widespread bipartisan support,” Samuel wrote. “In the 111th Congress, the bill passed the House 314-97, with a majority of each party in favor. The bill would guarantee the right to form a union and bargain over wages, hours and working conditions, with binding arbitration to resolve disputes.”

“It would, however, prohibit strikes or lockouts. Consistent with these minimum standards, the legislation would give states wide flexibility to write and administer their own laws.”

“Where it exists, collective bargaining has produced measurable staffing, training, equipment and health and safety improvements throughout the nation’s fire departments -- resulting in safety advances for fire fighters and improved local emergency response capabilities. We urge you to co-sponsor H.R. 1154 to provide collective bargaining rights for all the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect the public.”

“Fire Fighters, police and emergency personnel should have the right to form a union and fight for fair wages and safe working conditions,” Kildee, whose district includes Flint, Mich., said.

“These men and women serve our communities every day, regardless of personal risk, and deserve the ability to collectively bargain. All unions are critical to growing America’s middle class, and this is an area where we have fallen short as a country in providing equal rights for our public safety officers.”

“Our police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel stepped up to serve their community and when we need help, they answer our call. They have earned the right to form a union and collectively bargain for fair hours and wages,” Fitzpatrick added.

“The IAFF is proud to see Congressman Kildee re-introduce the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to “give basic collective bargaining rights to fire fighters and other public safety workers who do not have a say in their own personal safety or that of the people they protect, union President Harold Schaitberger said.

“His decision to take the lead on behalf of Fire Fighters provides a needed voice for the hard-working men and women who dedicate their careers to keeping their communities safe.”

HR1154, introduced earlier this year, went to the Democratic-run Education and Labor Committee, which has yet to schedule a hearing on it. 

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Press Associates

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