PUBLIC SAFETY EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE COOPERATION ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - May 13, 2008)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I thank my colleague and friend from Wyoming, Senator Enzi, for extending the courtesy, because we have had some speakers on our side, out of respect for their schedules. We have welcomed their comments at this time.
But I wish to refocus attention to the subject matter at hand, the matter that is before the Senate, and to describe in greater detail this legislation and the reasons for it and the support for this important piece of legislation.
First, I commend the Senate for voting earlier today to take up the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act. The House passed this bill last July by an overwhelming vote of 314 to 97. The Cooperation Act isn't just about protecting union rights. This bill is vitally important to each and every American because, at its core, it is about safety, the safety of our dedicated first responders and the safety of our Nation in this new era of heightened concerns about homeland security. The bill takes a major step forward in protecting our firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders from danger on the job. Public safety workers are on the front lines of our constant efforts to keep America safe. They are all on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, doing backbreaking, difficult work, and doing it with great skill, great courage, and great dedication.
We have seen all too often how dangerous these jobs can be. These charts illustrate the point. In 2006, more than 75,000 police officers were injured in the line of duty. Last year, 140 police officers paid the ultimate price and lost their lives in the line of duty. We see similar numbers with firefighters who put their lives on the line every day. In 2006, more than 83,000 firefighters were injured in the line of duty. Last year, 115 firefighters paid the ultimate price. Another 45 have lost their lives so far this year. This is dangerous work, life-threatening work. These are careers which men and women follow for years with great courage, dedication, and commitment to the public interest and to the families of America. Those are the individuals we are talking about with this legislation.
First responders can also face chronic long-term health problems as well. The courageous firefighters who rushed to Ground Zero on 9/11 now suffer from crippling health problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They often pay the ultimate price. Last year 250 public safety employees across the country lost their lives in the line of duty. Our public safety workers do not hesitate to rush into fires, wade into floods, put their lives on the line in other ways to protect our homes, our families, and our communities. They know better than anyone else what is needed to keep them as safe as possible on the job, and they deserve the right to have a voice in decisions that profoundly affect their lives and their safety.
When governments and public safety workers are unable to cooperate through collective bargaining, the workers' lives are put at needless risk. The numbers tell the story. Look at this chart. States without collective bargaining, which is the underlying issue before the Senate with this legislation, have 39 percent more fatalities. The reason primarily is because firefighters know how to work in ways that can protect the public and also can provide greater safety and security for the firefighters and first responders and police officials as well, based upon their experience, their knowledge of the task which is before them. Because of that, they are able to have a much better safety record. That is basically what we are trying to share, that kind of experience, with the other firefighters and police officials and first responders in other parts of the country who don't have these kinds of protections.
Behind those numbers are the tragic stories of lives that could have been saved with better communication or better cooperation of effort. A heartbreaking example occurred last year in Charleston, SC. Here is the story. In 2002, the Charleston firefighters association asked the city to begin following the National Fire Protection Association. That is an organization that makes recommendations with regard to safety and security in fighting fires. Unfortunately, there was no mechanism to ensure that these concerns could be heard and addressed. On June 18, 2007, nine Charleston firefighters died in the line of duty. In October of 2007, an expert panel hired by the city to investigate the loss recommended that the department begin following NFPA standards and begin meeting with workers.
That was their recommendation after experiencing the loss of lives. Afterwards we wanted to try to establish a procedure to avoid those kinds of circumstances in the future. We will never know how many lives might have been saved on that day in Charleston, if adequate safety standards had been in place, but we do know that in many other fire departments across the country, critical discussions about safety should be happening, but they are not. Unless public safety workers have a voice on the job, these problems will never be fully and fairly addressed. Without the protection of collective bargaining, workers are afraid to speak out for fear they will face retaliation. These fears are well founded because of countless examples of brave and dedicated first responders who have been harshly punished for raising safety concerns.
Consider the case of firefighter Stan Tinney of Odessa, TX. Here is his situation. In 2001, Stan Tinney, president of the Firefighters Association of Odessa, TX published a newsletter critical of the fire department's safety practices, including inadequate staffing and equipment. Tinney was suspended without pay, reprimanded, downgraded in a performance evaluation, and it took a Federal court that later found the Odessa officials violated Tinney's constitutional rights. It took a Federal case in order to do that. Think of all the other Stan Tinneys around the country who have been intimidated by that kind of action. We don't need that. We need to have suggestions. We need ideas. We need recommendations about how to protect our firefighters, our first responders, and our police community.
Tinney and four of his coworkers, when this incident took place, were questioned individually by city officials and Tinney was suspended without pay, reprimanded, and downgraded. A Federal court later found his constitutional rights had been violated, and the city settled Tinney's claim for $265,000. All that heartache and expense could have been avoided if there had been a mechanism in place for Tinney to express his concern. This legislation provides that.
The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act will give Stan Tinney and countless others like him a voice in the decisions that affect their jobs, their health and safety, and their families.
It will give them a safer workplace, and, just as important, it will give them a right to be treated with dignity and respect.
It is not just individual workers who will benefit from this important legislation. Enabling public safety workers and their employers to work cooperatively together makes our entire Nation safer.
In the past decade, we have seen dramatic changes in the way we protect our country. National security has become a local issue. Every city and town in our country--large and small, urban and rural--now has a vital role in keeping us safe from harm.
In this new and more dangerous world, State and local public safety workers are being asked to play an even larger role. We have asked them to become true partners with Federal security agencies in protecting our country from threats, and these dedicated workers have risen to the challenge. But year after year, we are failing to give them the support they need to do their vital jobs as effectively as possible.
Giving these brave men and women the voice they deserve at the bargaining table will facilitate cooperation between public safety workers and their employers. It will enable them to perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively. The benefits are obvious, and we see them in communities across the country that have already accepted the basic principles of public safety cooperation.
Take the example of Annapolis, MD. Until recently, scheduling rules for firefighters and paramedics in Annapolis, MD, often forced them--these are the workers--to work 48-hour shifts, leaving workers vulnerable to exhaustion and dangerous mistakes. The local union worked with management through collective bargaining to change scheduling rules, shortening shifts and improving safety for the workers and the public. It does not sound too complicated. It just sounds like common sense to me. And it sounds like an important step in order to provide greater safety and protection for families in Annapolis. Workers there were concerned about scheduling rules, and through a cooperative collective bargaining relationship, the union worked with management to negotiate a new schedule that met the city's needs, while reducing the length of individual shifts. These obvious changes resulted in better rested and more effective firefighters and paramedics, with real benefits to both the first responders and the communities they serve.
Such cooperation also gives State and local governments the flexibility they need to respond to changing circumstances.
Look at this chart. The economy in Tulsa, OK, was struggling after September 11. Through collective bargaining, the mayor and the firefighters agreed to defer payments into the firefighters' Health and Welfare Trust for 1 year. The deferral saved the city over $400,000, and the city was able to spread its repayment to the trust over a longer period of time, providing valuable flexibility that helped the city address its budget troubles--working together with the community and for the community, an important achievement and an important accomplishment.
Some of my colleagues argue that granting them collective bargaining rights will limit the ability of States and cities to respond effectively to an emergency. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have seen, in the most dramatic illustration, that all 343 firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty on September 11 were union members and with collective bargaining rights. There is no question about their courage, no question about their bravery, no question about their willingness to do their duty and do it heroically. When challenged, that has certainly been the evidence time-in and time-out. So we reject those suggestions and those observations.
In addition, for example, before 9/11, the Port Authority police officers worked 8-hour days, with 2 days off, each week. After 9/11, everyone worked 12-hour shifts every day and all vacations and personal time were canceled. This hard schedule continued for nearly 3 years, but neither the union nor any union member filed a single grievance about it. They did their duty, and they did it heroically.
Do we understand that? As to police officers for the Port Authority that has responsibility in the greater port area in New York, before 9/11 they worked 8-hour days, with 2 days off, each week, and after 9/11 everyone worked 12-hour shifts every day and all vacations and personal time were canceled. The hard schedule continued for nearly 3 years, and neither the union nor any union member filed a single grievance--not a single grievance--when they were called upon to meet their responsibility--not a single grievance. They did their duty, and they did it heroically.
Our families and communities deserve the best public safety services we can possibly provide, and achieving that goal starts with the strong foundation that comes with collective bargaining.
No one doubts that our communities and our country are living on borrowed time. We all hope the numerous other steps we are taking will be successful in preventing similar catastrophic attacks. It makes no sense not to make the basic rights granted by this legislation available to all of America's first responders. It is an urgent matter of public safety. I commend Senator Gregg for his leadership on this important issue, and I urge my colleagues to give our heroes the respect and support they deserve by approving the Cooperation Act.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, we want to permit others to speak. I will speak in a short time in response to my friend and colleague from Wyoming. If this legislation did what he suggested it did, I would not be a sponsor or support the legislation either. I will go into some detail in explaining what the legislation does do and what it doesn't do.
With regard to the Senator from Utah, this issue about having a secret ballot or nonsecret ballot, we leave up to the States. Rather than trying to mandate that--a lot has been talked about giving the States options as to how to proceed. We say on both items the Senator addressed that the States are the ones that should make the judgment and determinations.
We will have a longer time to debate this issue.
I thank the Senator from New Jersey.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, will the Senator yield?
Mr. MENENDEZ. I will be happy to yield.
Mr. KENNEDY. I always appreciate hearing from the Senator from New Jersey. I hope our colleagues will listen carefully to what the Senator from New Jersey has said because he comes to this debate as a former mayor. Mayors, as we all know, have had special relationships, obviously, with firefighters and police on the firing line. So when I hear the Senator from New Jersey talk about that value as a former mayor, he can see the value in terms of safety and security for the people in that community as a result of this legislation in terms of cooperative discussions and arrangements. That says a good deal.
Some have presented a situation--which, of course, is not accurate--where this legislation is going to be imposing extraordinary hardships, additional burdens, and unfunded mandates on mayors, particularly in smaller communities, and do a great disservice, actually, in terms of the whole relationship between the public safety officers and the security of the community.
So I particularly value his comments on this aspect of the bill. There are obviously a number of other important aspects of it. But as it relates to small towns, I forget the actual population or the size of the community, the city that the good Senator was the mayor of, but, in any event, if he could elaborate on his views about this legislation and its importance to mayors as well as to firefighters, I think it would be very helpful because he speaks from very practical experience.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Well, I appreciate the comments of the Senator from Massachusetts. We had about 60,000 people in the community at the time. But it was a challenge, 60,000 people in 1.1 square miles, the most densely populated city in the Nation.
So the uniqueness of some of those challenges of having police and firefighters be able to respond was very much--although the population was high, the geography was small. So we had a much smaller sense of the response times and the necessities that were demanded.
But I also was part of the mayors' coalition in the State of New Jersey at the time. That coalition represented urban, suburban, rural mayors. Throughout the State of New Jersey, they had obviously the right for collective bargaining. To be honest with you, I don't recall any of those mayors saying collective bargaining was the bane of their existence as it related to being able to produce the services.
I think the reality is that what we do through this process is we build strong partnerships between first responders and the cities and the States in which they serve. When public safety employers and employees work together, it not only reduces worker fatalities, and they have a consequence, even in a noncollective bargaining system--there obviously clearly are claims against the municipality--but above all, it improves the quality of the services and the delivery of those services at the end of the day.
I believe in a post-September 11 world, having resided in a State that lost hundreds of people on that fateful day and in a community that saw several hundred lost on that fateful day, that these are individuals who now play a critical role far beyond what we envisioned originally or what their history has been, which is certainly producing the safety in our communities from the normal challenges of crime, burglaries, thefts, robberies or assaults, or maybe even more minor roles of traffic violations.
These first responders across the landscape of the country face a much heightened responsibility. They play a critical role in homeland security. So by enhancing cooperation between those public safety employers and employees, I believe the legislation helps to ensure that vital public services run as smoothly as possible.
It is interesting that every New York City firefighter and police officer who responded to the disaster at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, was a union member under a collective bargaining agreement.
I believe their ability to have been integrated in their negotiations with the cities about all aspects of the delivery of their services gave some of the most incredible response on that fateful day.
There is not a reason why we cannot see that take place across the country in terms of readiness. So I believe that if we look at the bill, it only requires local governments to engage in negotiations. If workers choose to join a union, that is a rather low threshold. Again, States that do not have these protections can choose to establish their own collective bargaining systems. So I hope we realize what is at stake--that safety is incredibly at stake.
Twenty-nine States, along with the District of Columbia, currently guarantee all public safety workers the fundamental right of collective bargaining. Now, with the House of Representatives overwhelmingly--overwhelmingly--approving companion legislation almost a year ago, it is hard to believe the Senate will not act.
In fact, it is time for the Senate to act and to respond. With 80,000 firefighters and 76,000 police officers being injured in the line of duty each year, the time has come to ensure that these workers are protected. It is time to put our votes where our values are. It is interesting to me how very often those of us who serve in this body and the other body want to be there with police and firefighters. We want to take our picture with them, acknowledge them. We appreciate their services.
We talk about their heroism. But the time for all that talk to be meaningful is when you come to the Senate and you cast a vote that is to simply have a right that is fundamentally basic, that we have believed it to be truly an American right. And so all those pictures, all those speeches, it is time to put that vote to work. It is time to put our votes where our values are. It is time to uphold the rights of those who provide for our safety. It is time we show how much we appreciate the dedication and bravery of our Nation's heroes who take this risk every day.
Mr. KENNEDY. Would the Senator yield for another question?
Mr. MENENDEZ. I would be happy to yield.
Mr. KENNEDY. I think all of us in this body know the good Senator represents the State of New Jersey in this case, which had suffered extraordinary loss at the time of 9/11. A number of those extraordinary firefighters lived in the Senator's State. So when he speaks about these issues, talking about the courage and the bravery of these firefighters, he talks about it with a good deal of background and understanding and an enormous sense of compassion for having gone through with many of these families their loss.
That is why, I believe, the Senator in his strong support for this legislation, as a former mayor and also someone who knows and has personal experience with these firefighters, can speak so authoritatively about what this legislation can mean in terms of the safety and security of the community and also with regard to the safety and security of the firefighters, police officers, first responders.
Does the Senator agree with me that those who were not lost on that day but in a very real sense brothers and sisters of the first responders who were lost on 9/11, many of whom were lost in his district, do they feel that legislation will help and assist providing safety and security to the people, whether it is in New Jersey, or in the communities they represent, and that they are supporting this legislation because they are very hopeful and prayerful we will never again face that kind of tragedy we faced but that they believe this legislation can help provide additional safety and security for their communities and for their fellow citizens?
Mr. MENENDEZ. I appreciate the question of the Senator from Massachusetts and the chairman of the committee. The answer is, yes, I say to the Senator. The fact is that New Jerseyans have this right. Yet every year when I have had visits from firefighters and police officers, they have talked about this legislation because they understand, even though they already have the right, they never want to visit another State for the loss of one of their fellows in service who have committed the ultimate sacrifice.
They understand very powerfully that the ability to negotiate, as I suggested earlier, is not only about salaries. Look, you do not do this type of work for a salary. You do not do this type of work for a pension. You do not do this type of work for certain benefits. You do this type of work because you are committed to the proposition that you are willing to sacrifice your life in return for saving someone else's, and that is incredibly important.
Finally, the reality is, I found it interesting in those negotiations that I used to have as a mayor, very often, as I said before about the ability to perform the job, because it was with the mission in mind and the oath taken to save lives, that more often was on the table than the question simply about salaries or pensions or benefits. They know their interaction with their governmental bodies in performing and having a service goes far beyond that which may exist in those States that do not permit that interaction through the collective bargaining system, that in fact lives of their fellow officers can be saved, their fellow police officers and, most importantly, the lives of their fellow citizens. That is why they have come and advocated for this legislation.
Even though they already enjoy the benefit, they understand the potential benefits for a much broader benefit for a much broader universe.
Mr. KENNEDY. I see other Senators wish to address the Senate. We have been reminded about how long we have been considering this legislation and how important it is that we do it at the present time.
As the Senator knows, this bill was initially introduced by our former colleague, Senator Mike Dewine, in 1999. The Senate even voted on it in 2002. We had a HELP Committee hearing on this same legislation in the 106th Congress in 2001.
So many of these brave responders have waited for a long time. This has gone on for some 8 years without coming to completion. It is a matter that has been before this body as well during this Congress.
So would the Senator not agree with me, finally, that the time is now to take action? This is the time. We are talking about homeland security; we are talking about first responders; we are talking about those firefighters and police officers. Now is the time to permit them to be fully engaged and involved in further advancing the safety and security of our colleagues.
Would the Senator not agree with me that this is a significant matter that we have full awareness of and knowledge of and should be ready to take action on?
Mr. MENENDEZ. I agree fully with Senator Kennedy, that in fact, it is past time. Senator Dewine was a Republican and obviously saw the wisdom of this legislation. It is even more appropriate today. We face challenges unlike any other time in our history as it relates to what police and firefighters are called to do, to go far beyond their traditional roles. They need to have a voice as it relates to how they respond to these new challenges and to their new roles.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, will the Senator yield?
Mr. BROWN. I certainly will yield to the Senator from Massachusetts.
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I hope our colleagues have listened carefully to the Senator from Ohio because he has laid out the essential elements of this legislation and did it effectively.
As I mentioned, very often around here we have people who misrepresent or mischaracterize legislation and then differ with it. I have even done it myself a few times. We have seen that done with regard to this legislation.
I listened to my friend and colleague--and he is my friend and colleague--from Tennessee. I watched him wave the Constitution and talk about the tenth amendment, and the Senator from Ohio has answered that.
Does the Senator not agree with me that the basic process that is followed is that if this legislation is passed, a State then must set up some opportunity fulfilling four different requirements that are included in the bill? Those four different requirements that are to provide public service officers the right to form and join a labor organization; requires the employers to recognize a union that is chosen, require employers to engage in a collective bargaining process, and make available an impasse resolution. As the Senator correctly pointed out, that may very well be arbitration, that may be factfinding. It is completely left open.
Now the State takes these four broad guidelines and fashions legislation. Once Tennessee passes a law, if Tennessee workers say we don't like unions, they don't have to have one. End of the story. I had difficulty in understanding the Senator from Tennessee talk eloquently for half an hour describing this amendment, and I said one of us hasn't read it because there is no such requirement in this legislation as described by the Senator from Tennessee.
I wish the Senator would once again speak to the issue of an unfunded mandate. There is no possibility, as the Senator has mentioned, that there can be any impact on the local community or the State in terms of requiring them to spend a nickel if it isn't going to be approved by the regular order within that State. The State is going to have to make that judgment and that decision whether they want it, but there is nothing included in this legislation that is going to alter that part of the procedure.
As to these concerns we have heard during the course of the afternoon that this new legislation is going to suddenly be an unfunded mandate, I am always interested, if you eliminated the words ``unfunded mandate,'' you would quiet about half the Senate. They use those words so frequently when too often they don't have anything else to say. ``It is an unfunded mandate,'' and everyone quivers and shakes about it. That is the situation.
It is good if we have a debate, and we welcome the opportunity to take some time to debate. We are in no rush. This is important legislation. It is important that the Members understand it, but it is important, it does seem to me, as we are engaging in this debate, for the Members to understand correctly what we are doing and what we are not doing.
I was interested to know if the Senator agrees with me that the bill will not require any town or community in Ohio or any State to expend resources and funds that the State will not duly authorize under its existing appropriations procedures?
Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator. I certainly agree with the senior Senator from Massachusetts. In my State in Ohio, I have watched for 25 years what has happened with public employee collective bargaining. It has made the State better.
At the beginning of my comments, I talked about Ohio, I believe, has the best police, fire, and EMS forces in the entire country. A big part of that came out of collective bargaining.
Many times in communities when the city council reaches a difficult position with their police or with their fire or with their other first responders, the Federal Government does not get involved. We don't mandate that there should be a certain level of pay or certain level of fringe benefits or certain level of worker protections as they do their jobs. That is up to them, and this bill makes that easier to accomplish.
In no way is there a mandate, and in no way is this an unfunded mandate. No costs are imposed, no terms are imposed, there is no binding arbitration. As Senator Kennedy said, if Newton, MA, Lynn or Boston want to have binding arbitration or factfinding, they can do that. It is the same with Marion, Portsmouth, and Ravenna, OH. They make those decisions. That is the beauty of this legislation. We set up the system of collective bargaining and let them make those determinations.
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, if the Senator will yield further, would the Senator not agree with me that the decisionmaking then is going to be done at effectively the local level by workers rather than at the Federal level or even at the State level? The State is going to outline a process. Then the workers are going to make a judgment as to whether they want to follow that process. And if they choose that they will not do it, then there is no process or procedure, and they don't have to do it.
A compelling aspect of this legislation is the fact that we are giving the authority to deal with the most local issues to those who have responsibility today in the local community and who know best in terms of safety and security, and are trained in safety and security--the first responders.
The record is powerful in this area about how to ensure additional safety and protection for local communities, the State, and the country. We want to make sure that those decisions are made by the workers who have that expertise.
I thank the Senator for his comments because we have heard a good deal of rhetoric on the floor. It is important that we make sure our colleagues have a good understanding and awareness of the great efforts that have been made to make sure we are going to respect the States, we are going to respect, obviously, local communities and the differences that take place, and we are going to have special provisions, as the Senator correctly pointed out, in terms of voluntary fire departments.
We tried to work very carefully and closely--as the Senator has mentioned, this has been a bipartisan effort with Senators from all different parts of the country. What is important is that local firefighters, local first responders, local police officers are so strongly in support of this legislation because they understand better than anyone on the floor of this Senate the difference it can make for the safety and security of the American people.
I thank the Senator.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I will take a few moments to respond to some of the points that have been made during the afternoon. There are some very basic and fundamental points that I think should be made, and that is on the question of the right to choose and the ability for individuals to have that right to choose.
Here on the floor of the Senate, we heard last night from the Senator from Tennessee and at a time here earlier from the Senator from Arizona. I appreciate his kind personal comments. And I join him in paying tribute to my colleague, the Senator from Wyoming.
Although we differ on this legislation, he knows the great respect I have for him as a legislator and the affection I have for him. But there is a difference between a State saying: We are going to deny people the opportunity for collective bargaining, and a State having a process and a procedure in which the people in the State make that judgment and decision. It is similar to the right to vote. Every individual ought to have that right to vote, and if they are not going to use it, that is their judgment and decision, but it is an important enough right to say that we must make it available and allow them to exercise it.
That is what we are saying with this legislation, that a decision dealing with safety and security and a voice on the job for first responders is sufficiently important that workers should have an opportunity to express themselves and decide whether they want collective bargaining. The States themselves, as good as we believe their judgments are, shouldn't get to make that decision for the workers. The States should set up a process and procedure and let the people in the States make that judgment--that is pretty apple pie Americana, to let people make judgments and decisions about matters that are going to make an important difference with regard to safety and security of their jobs and their communities. That is what this is basically about.
So when we hear on the other side: my State made a judgment on it, and we are trying to see another State trying to impose its will on mine, well, I think my friend Senator Brown answered that very well as a general concept, but in particular, it is important to understand what is at the root of this, and that is a process. If this legislation passes, a State has four broad criteria that it must meet, and the Senator from Arizona is correct that if the State does not meet these requirements, then the Federal Labor Relations Authority has to step in and make sure these criteria are met. But if they do meet these basic requirements the Federal Labor Relations Authority would not become involved at all.
The idea that workers are going to be forced to join a union if they don't want one is a scare tactic--and I don't say that in a pejorative way, but just for our membership to understand. We are giving the choice to the workers. We believe those firefighters and first responders can make that judgment. We think it is an important enough decision that affects their lives and the lives of the people they are protecting that they should make it. Then they can make the judgment and decision on what they want in that particular State. If they make the decision that they don't want to have collective bargaining, so be it. But at least they have the possibility of moving ahead in that direction. It is difficult for me to believe that the States would refuse to establish the kind of process and procedure that would make that choice possible.
There are a host of different provisions in the Hatch amendment which have previously been rejected in one form or another. We might go over them briefly tomorrow. But I wanted to point out, in this legislation there is no requirement that workers must use majority sign-up, or card-check. I am a supporter of card check. I think it would open up opportunities for people to speak on the issue of whether they want to organize. But we have not made that judgment in this legislation. That isn't what this legislation is about. It is always interesting to me to hear all the opposition to card check, when we know historically that we used to have card check and it worked very well. Into the l950s, we had it, and we didn't hear a lot of the horror stories that we hear associated with it at this time. But there is not any requirement in this bill about card check. So it is important people understand that.
During the course of the afternoon, I heard a description of this legislation that I could not understand and never would have supported, if the legislation provided that. I hope we can clear up some of these misconceptions. We have had a good discussion on a number of these issues and on a number of others during the course of the afternoon. We will have a chance to go through the Record in more careful detail this evening, and make additional points when that opportunity presents itself.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, very quickly, the effect of the Corker amendment would be to gut or undermine the legislation. What we are trying to do is give workers an opportunity to make a judgment about how to proceed. That choice should be made by workers, not the Federal Government, not us here in Washington, DC, not in the State capitols, not the legislatures, but to let the workers, who are on the frontlines--firefighters, police officers, first responders--make the judgments that are going to make a difference in terms of their lives and in terms of their view of what is in the best interests of the safety and security of fellow citizens. This amendment, of course, will undermine that effort.
Finally, I want to review what this legislation does. We have done this a bit earlier today. I wanted to mention exactly what the requirements would be. First, there are four requirements that the States must meet to establish a framework by which the first responders and the firefighters and the police would make a judgment about whether they want a union. There must be a process allowing workers to form or join a union so they can have a voice in important decisions such as safety; they must be allowed to bargain over working conditions with their employers; they must be able to sign legally enforceable contracts; and they must have access to a neutral third party to help resolve disputes. We don't say whether it is arbitration, mediation, factfinding. All of those options are available. At the end of the day, if the workers say: We don't want that, then the issue is settled. But they have the voice. That is at the heart and the soul of this legislation. Do you have sufficient confidence in these individuals to be able to make that judgment. Those 343 extraordinary firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11, should they have had the opportunity to make judgments with regard to their safety and security? Shouldn't they be the individuals who know what is important in terms of safety and security? They weren't failing or flagging in terms of their resolution or their courage. What we are attempting to do is say: They are the knowledgeable people. They are the trained people. They are the ones who know how to improve safety. They should have a voice at the table, if they want one.
All of this about unfunded mandates, all of this about the Federal Labor Relations Authority, all of the language about volunteer firefighters, all of that is useful to talk about but misses the very basic and important element and thrust of this legislation, which is so important in terms of people who work every day to make our communities and our cities in our country safe and secure.
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I think we have had a good discussion today on this legislation. I hope we will have a chance to look over the Record tonight. We have four pending amendments. We understood Members wanted to talk about these measures, and they wanted to give consideration to them. So we will be ready. There is another group of amendments that I believe have been filed, but we are checking with their authors whether they want to call those up. So I think in the totality of things we have made some good progress today.
I understand we will be on this legislation in the mid or late morning tomorrow. We look forward to that opportunity to further respond to questions and to consider other amendments. We would certainly look forward to the authors of these amendments being ready to give consideration to voting on some of these measures. I think they are all--at least the amendments we have seen--pretty straightforward. I have responded to a few this afternoon. We will have a chance to further respond in the morning. But I think we will be prepared to keep the process moving and move ahead. There are matters which should be discussed and debated. We look forward to that debate and discussion as well tomorrow.
At least now, we have no further speakers on this legislation at this time. I see our friend from Iowa on his feet.