Collective Bargaining

Ensuring our members have collective bargaining is a top priority of the IAFF. The collective bargaining process creates a structured environment for employers and employees to discuss workplace issues and terms and conditions of employment through collaboration and mutual respect. Learn more about collective bargaining and what your union is doing across the U.S. to secure collective bargaining on the local, state, and federal levels.

What is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process by which employers and employees sit down to discuss the terms and conditions of employment. These discussions lead to a collective bargaining agreement (employment contract) that outlines wages, hours, and working conditions.

A collective bargaining agreement, sometimes referred to as a “union contract,” is a written legal contract between the employer and the and a union representing the employees. The agreement is the result of a collaborative process between the employer and employee regarding topics such as wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. The process creates a structured environment for employers and employees to discuss workplace issues and terms and conditions of employment through collaboration and mutual respect.

Learn more about what collective bargaining is and how to talk about collective bargaining by clicking the links below.

Mapping Collective Bargaining Across the U.S.

Because fire fighters are not allowed to participate in strikes or other work stoppages, many states have adopted laws that provide special provisions for bargaining disputes involving fire fighters or public employees more generally. Other states, however, have no laws providing such measures or even specifically allowing municipalities to bargain with fire fighters over wages, hours, and working conditions.

Below, we have broken the laws of all 50 states into six general categories.

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Governmental Affairs – Collective Bargaining
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Governmental Affairs – REPLICA Overlay

Category I: Collective Bargaining – with binding arbitration.
States allow fire fighters to bargain collectively with their employers and provide for binding arbitration procedures when an impasse is reached.

*Utah – non-binding arbitration for salary and wage disputes.

Total number of states: 25

Category II: Collective Bargaining – non-binding arbitration or fact-finding.
States allow fire fighters to bargain collectively, but provide only non-binding procedures when an impasse has been reached.

*Florida – some Locals have binding arbitration.

Total number of states: 8

Category III: Local option by state statute.
States have statutes allowing localities to adopt their own proceedings for bargaining with fire fighters and for dealing with resulting impasses.

*Kentucky (guaranteed by state statute for Lexington and Louisville only, no binding arbitration)
*Maryland (local can adopt binding arbitration or not)

Total number of states: 8

Category IV: Local option without statute.
States have no collective bargaining laws that affect fire fighters. In these states, localities may bargain collectively with fire fighters if they so choose.

Total number of states: 6

Category V: Collective Bargaining – contracts unenforceable.
State laws are similar to category IV states, except that courts in these states have ruled that any collective bargaining contracts involving municipalities are unenforceable.

Total number of states: 2

Category VI: Collective Bargaining – illegal.
States have statutes that specifically prohibit fire fighters from participating in collective bargaining with their municipality.

Total number of states: 1


Affording all workers, the right to organize and bargain collectively is fundamentally essential to any union. The passage of the Wagner Act as part of FDR’s New Deal allowed private sector workers to enjoy collective bargaining, but public sector workers, including fire fighters, were excluded for political and constitutional reasons.

Starting in the 1950’s, efforts spearheaded by the IAFF and its affiliates focused on winning collective bargaining statutes at the state and local levels. In some states, the IAFF’s efforts have proved to be successful, beginning with New York’s Taylor Law in 1958, which allows bargaining for state’s public employees. Fire fighters started winning legislative battles, referendums, and state constitutional assurances for bargaining rights. Some states provide basic rights to organize and collectively bargain through non-binding dispute mechanisms, while other apply full binding arbitration methods.

Through the years, many states and localities still don’t provide these rights to fire fighters, and some vehemently oppose it (primarily in the south and some western states). There are 18 states that do not have guarantee bargaining rights to all fire fighters. Although, some of those 18 states do permit bargaining at the local level.

From the time that the IAFF delegates at the 1994 IAFF Convention in Detroit, Michigan passed a resolution making national collective bargaining the IAFF’s top legislative priority and it was reaffirmed at the 2016 IAFF Convention. It is a mandate that remains in force to this day. The legislative efforts to obtain national collective bargaining have endured a long-tortured history since 1994, but a national collective bargaining bill remains the top priority of the IAFF.

Federal Collective Bargaining

The IAFF urges Congress to pass the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (H.R. 3539). This legislation ensures fire fighters and emergency medical workers have the right to work with their employers to address concerns related to working conditions.

The Cooperation Act recognizes the value of partnerships between fire fighters and emergency medical workers and their employers by protecting the rights to form a union, bargain over working conditions, develop a written agreement, and establish a dispute resolution mechanism.

Studies show that when fire fighters and emergency medical workers collaborate with their employers, their communities have lower death rates per fire and more effective emergency responses. Fire fighters and emergency medical workers also enjoy safer working conditions, improved wages, and more secure retirements. As personnel increasingly respond across state lines for wildland fires, terrorist acts, and natural disasters, it is more important than ever to ensure they have the staffing, resources, and open dialogue needed to succeed.

Read more about the The Cooperation Act and other key issues in our Legislative Priorities Book.

Sample Contract Language

The IAFF Model Contract Language Manual provides actual examples of contract language extracted from IAFF local union agreements to assist IAFF affiliates in preparing their contract proposals and drafting collective bargaining agreements.

In addition to actual examples of contract language, we have also incorporated model contract language developed by the IAFF where applicable. It should be noted that the model language is a starting point during the negotiating process and the “finished product” will most likely resemble the actual examples provided in this manual.

You can find collective bargaining agreements from IAFF affiliates from every state and province in the IAFF Contract Library. Sample language contained within the Model Contract Language Manual is broken down into three categories:

Economic Benefit Language

Addresses benefits to be received by employees. Such language is inclusive, but not limited to issues such as: health insurance; hours of work; overtime; and paid leave.

Boiler Plate Language

Ensures the individual employee protection by the continuing existence of the union. Such language is inclusive, but not limited to issues such as: dues checkoff; seniority; union recognition; grievance procedure; savings clause and union activity provisions.

Miscellaneous Language

Addresses employee working conditions. Such language is inclusive, but not limited to issues such as: ADA/ADEA; drug testing; labor-management committees; and shift exchange.