Today the Senate will begin debate on the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (S. 2123), bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) that would provide basic collective-bargaining rights for all public safety officers while respecting states' autonomy. On Tuesday, the Senate will proceed to a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the bill, which has 11 Republican co-sponsors. The companion House bill, H.R. 980, passed the House last fall by a vote of 314 to 97, with the support of 98 Republicans.
Senator Judd Gregg and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the lead sponsors of the legislation, issued the following statements:
Senator Gregg stated, "The Cooperation Act is a bipartisan approach which recognizes and carries out our obligations to public safety officers who work hard every day to ensure that our neighborhoods and communities are safe places to live and raise a family. The legislation protects the rights of public safety officers by allowing them to form or join a union, or to refrain from doing so, without sacrificing safety needs. This bipartisan effort puts the decisions regarding implementation, enforcement, and all major details of the collective bargaining agreement in the hands of individual states. It further protects small towns by ensuring that areas with populations of less than 5,000 or fewer than 25 full time employees are exempt from collective bargaining and that firefighters or E.M.T.s who are employed by a department participating in collective bargaining agreements can still serve their local communities as volunteers."
Senator Kennedy said, "Every day, hundreds of thousands of public safety workers put their lives on the line to protect our communities and our families. Yet large numbers of them have no voice at work to talk about their own safety and their jobs. This basic right should be available to America's first responders. It's a matter of fundamental fairness, and it's essential for public safety as well, especially in these dangerous times. I commend Senator Gregg for his leadership on this vital issue and I urge the Senate to give these courageous men and women the respect they deserve by supporting this long-needed legislation."
PUBLIC SAFETY EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE COOPERATION ACT
S. 2123, the bipartisan Gregg-Kennedy Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act guarantees basic collective-bargaining rights for all public safety officers while respecting states' autonomy.
The Cooperation Act promotes public safety.
* Builds strong partnerships. The Cooperation Act builds strong partnerships between first responders and the cities and states they serve. When public safety employers and employees work together, it reduces worker fatalities and improves the quality of services.
* Enhances homeland security. Post 9/11, state and local public safety workers play a critical role in homeland security. By enhancing cooperation between public safety employers and employees, the Cooperation Act helps to ensure that these vital public services run as smoothly as possible.
* Enhances crisis management. Every New York City firefighter, EMT and police officer who responded to the disaster at the World Trade Center on 9/11 was a union member under a collective bargaining agreement. Their unions did not hinder their ability to respond to the crisis.
* Prevents workplace disruptions. Strikes, lock outs, or other activities by public safety officers that would disrupt the delivery of emergency services are expressly outlawed.
The Cooperation Act promotes basic fairness.
* Gives first responders the dignity they deserve. First responders have the right to be treated with respect. The Cooperation Act gives them the same right to collective bargaining enjoyed by most private and public sector employees, including some public safety officers that already have this opportunity under some state laws.
* Ensures basic collective bargaining rights. The bill would give public safety officers the right to bargain over wages, hours, and working conditions, and would ensure that these rights are enforceable in state court or comparable authority. It also provides an efficient and effective dispute resolution mechanism for labor-management conflicts.
* Respects state laws. The legislation would only affect the states that don't already provide their public safety officers with the right to bargain collectively. States that do not currently provide these protections can choose to establish their own collective bargaining systems or may ask the assistance of the Federal Labor Relations Authority in doing so.
The Cooperation Act attains these goals in a fair and reasonable manner:
Ensures collective bargaining rights in states that don't currently permit it:
* States that do not currently provide for first responder collective bargaining would have two years to revise state law.
* After two years, the Federal Labor Relations Authority would become responsible for protecting the rights of first responders in those states that choose not to provide their own system for first responder collective bargaining.
* The FLRA would issue regulations to establish procedures for employees to choose whether or not to form a union and for collective bargaining.
* The FLRA would not have any say in the terms of collective-bargaining agreements.
Doesn't interfere in states that allow first responders to bargain collectively:
* The Cooperation Act has no application in states where first responders
* have the right to join a labor organization
* have the right to bargain over basic terms, such wages, hours, and conditions of employment
* can enforce those rights in a written contract
* have mediation, arbitration or some kind of dispute resolution process available to break a bargaining impasse
Gives states flexibility to adopt a collective bargaining system that fits their particular needs and allows state and local governments to retain the final say over any contract terms
Prohibits strikes and lockouts involving any public safety officers
Allows states to continue to enforce right-to-work laws that prohibit contracts that require union membership or payment of union fees as a condition of employment