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On the Hill, Fire Fighters Push for Bargaining Bill


On the Hill, Fire Fighters Push for Bargaining Bill

by Mike Hall, Mar 17, 2009

Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other congressional leaders told more than 1,000 members of the Fire Fighters (IAFF) yesterday that legislation protecting the freedom of firefighters in all states to join unions and bargain for a better life will be approved and signed into law.

Today, IAFF members are on Capitol Hill shoring up support for that bill and other vital working family legislation as part of the union’s 2009 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

In his opening remarks, IAFF President Harold Schaitberger said that it has been 74 years since the National Labor Relations Act—which covers private-sector workers, but not firefighters and other first responders and public employees—became law.

We’re not going to allow our members to wait any longer. We’ve waited long enough. It’s time for passage of our collective bargaining bill. It’s been 74 years that we’ve been waiting on the outside looking in for that federally guaranteed right.

More than 20 states do not fully protect the bargaining rights of firefighters and other first responders. Two states—Virginia and North Carolina—prohibit public safety employees from collectively bargaining. Said Biden:

The Public Safety Cooperation Act, blocked by the last administration, will pass this time and the president will sign it. He will sign it with pride.

The bill would protect the collective bargaining rights of tens of thousands of firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and other public safety officers. Last year, the bill passed the House, but Republican senators were able to block Senate consideration. The legislation guarantees first responders:

The right to join a union.
The right to have their union recognized by their employer.
The right to bargain collectively over hours, wages and terms and conditions of employment.
A fact-finding, mediation or arbitration process for resolving an impasse in negotiations.
Enforcement of these rights, and of written contracts, through state courts.
Schaitberger also stressed that the IAFF will bring its strength and influence to bear in the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act to restore the freedom of workers to join unions and bargain for a better life.

Turning to the economy, Schaitberger said the economic crisis is forcing cities and states to drastically cut budgets, threatening public safety.

The results are in small towns like Greenfield, Ohio, and in the largest cities like New York City, our members are faced with furloughs, layoffs, brownouts, shutting down companies and closing stations. Without an enormous influx of resources, the budgets that provide the very foundation for our nation’s public safety would likely be raided.

Now is not the time to allow the frontline of our nation’s homeland defense to be weakened.

Biden said the Obama administration is committed to getting firefighters the equipment, training and additional staffing they need to do their jobs.

We’ve already increased funding for stations, equipment, better training, more protective clothing….We’re committed to increasing funding for SAFER, which will go directly to fire departments so they can hire more trained firefighters to work by your sides—and this is important—retain the firefighters who are in danger, of being laid off.

Click here to read Biden’s full remarks and here to watch Schaitberger’s and Pelosi’s remarks, as well as those of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano, who also spoke to the delegates.

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