Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Edward Kennedy, Sr.
Date: Aug. 6, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - August 06, 2009)

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By Mr. GREGG (for himself, Mr. KENNEDY, Ms. COLLINS, Mr. DODD, Mr. MARTINEZ, Mr. HARKIN, Ms. SNOWE, and Ms. MIKULSKI):

S. 1611. A bill to provide collective bargaining rights for public safety officers employed by States or their political subdivisions; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, this morning, 660,000 police officers and 300,000 firefighters across the country will get up and go to work to protect our homes, our families, and our communities. They will go into burning buildings, patrol our streets, and put their lives on the line, because they believe in the importance of what they are doing.

These dedicated workers are in the trenches every day making life-or-death decisions, and their experiences give them tremendous knowledge about how to protect our country. We need to listen to their recommendations and consider their advice. Unfortunately, however, all too often, our first responders have no voice in the decisions that affect their lives and their livelihoods. Their input is disregarded because they don't have the same rights as other workers.

Workers in the private sector who want a voice on the job have the right to form and join a union. They can fight for a safer, fairer workplace. But 300,000 police and 70,000 firefighters live in States in

which their State governments deny them the fundamental right to a voice on the job. Even if these workers overwhelmingly agree that they want to form and join a union, their State government says they can't have one.

That is not fair. We are asking these workers to do so much for their communities--the least we can do in return is give them a voice at the table in the life-and-death discussions and decisions that affect their families and their futures. They deserve the opportunity to choose for themselves whether they want the advantages that unions bring.

That is why it is an honor to join Senator GREGG and Senator DODD in sponsoring the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to guarantee that our first responders will have a path they can use to decide if they want a union. If the workers don't want a union, they don't have to follow that path. But the State has to make it available and let the workers choose.

It won't be difficult for States to create this path. All they have to do is provide four basic rights: the right to form and join a union; the right to sit down at the table and talk; the right to sign a contract if both parties agree; and the right to go to a neutral third party when there are disputes.

Apart from these four rights, all the other details of the collective bargaining system are left up to the States. They have the flexibility to decide whether to exempt small communities. They decide how workers can select a union. They can also decide how workers and employers should resolve disputes--through arbitration, mediation, factfinding, or some other mechanism.

This bipartisan bill has been carefully drafted to preserve a balance between the interests of State and local governments and the rights of the workers they employ. It has been the product of years of careful negotiations, including a hearing and two markups in the HELP Committee. It was passed by the House of Representatives in the last Congress with an overwhelming bipartisan margin, including 98 Republican votes. No it is time to get it across the finish line and give our dedicated first responders the fair treatment they deserve. It is a matter of fundamental fairness and an urgent matter of public safety.

I commend Senator GREGG for his leadership on this very important issue, and I urge my colleagues to show these heroes the respect they deserve by supporting the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act.

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