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Mr. Dodd. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, a bipartisan measure that will guarantee our Nation's law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel the right to bargain collectively with their employers. I have been proud to work with Senator Gregg on this important legislation for many years. I also want to acknowledge my good friend, Senator Ted Kennedy, who long championed this bill.
Now more than ever, the risks taken by our first responders are greater than they have ever been. From the increased risk of terrorist attacks, to the catastrophic hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires that have ravaged our country from coast to coast, each and every day we ask more from our emergency workers, and they always rise to the challenge. These are people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to serving their communities--making the streets safe, fighting fires, providing prehospital emergency medical care, conducting search-and-rescue missions when a building collapses or a natural disaster occurs, responding to hazardous materials emergencies, and so much more.
The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act provides these brave men and women with basic rights to bargain collectively, a right that workers in many other industries have used effectively to improve relations with their supervisors. This bill is carefully crafted to allow States a great deal of flexibility to implement plans that will work best from them. All it requires is that States provide public safety workers with the most basic collective bargaining rights--the right to form and join unions and to collectively bargain over wages, hours, and working conditions. It also will require a mechanism for settling any labor disputes. These are rights that a majority of States, including my home State of Connecticut, already provide these workers, and this bill does nothing to interfere with States whose laws already provide these fundamental rights.
This bill will allow States to continue enforcing right-to-work laws they may have on the books, which prohibit contracts requiring union membership as a condition of employment. This bill even allows States to entirely exempt small communities with fewer than 5,000 residents or fewer than 25 full-time employees.
Importantly, this bill takes every precaution to ensure that the right to collectively bargain will not interfere with the critical role these workers play in keeping our communities safe. It explicitly prohibits any strikes, lockouts, or other work stoppages. But the key to this bill is truly to foster a cooperative atmosphere between our first responders and the agencies they work for. Cooperation between labor and management will inevitably lead to public safety agencies being better able to serve their communities. Unions can help ensure that vital public services run smoothly during a crisis, and this bill will further that goal.
I would add that this legislation enjoys enormous bipartisan support. During the 110th Congress, the House passed it by a vote of 314-97, and the Senate voted to invoke cloture by a vote of 69-29. In the 111th Congress, the Cooperation Act has five Republican cosponsors, including the lead sponsor, Senator Gregg. Moreover, the House version has 50 Republican cosponsors. In an era that is all too often dominated by party-line votes, this is an extraordinary show of support from both parties. That is because we recognize the unique and essential role these workers play in every single community, and we recognize that by granting them these basic rights they will be able to better serve those communities.
This bill addresses some of the most critical concerns of our Nation's first responders. It goes beyond negotiating wages, hours and benefits. In this circumstance, for this group of people, it means so much more. It means that the men and women who run into burning buildings, resuscitate accident victims, and patrol the streets of our towns and cities can sit down with their supervisors to relate their real life experiences. They can discuss their concerns and use their on-the-ground expertise to help improve their service to the community. Granting our first responders this basic right is not only in their best interest--it is in all of our best interests. It will allow these men and women to better serve their communities by fostering a spirit of cooperation with the agencies and towns that employ them.
When tragedies have struck us, from the September 11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina, it is these workers who are the first people on the scene and the last to leave. We owe them everything, and all they have asked of us in return is dignity and respect in the workplace. They stand with us every single day on the job, and it is time we stand with them. I urge all my colleagues to join me and the millions of first responders who form the backbone of our Nation's homeland security by voting to pass this crucial legislation.
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