The IAFF strongly supports the Fire Fighter and EMS Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2021 and encourages members of Congress to cosponsor the bill.
Summary: The Fire Fighter and EMS Employer-Employee Cooperation Act would guarantee fire fighters and EMS workers basic collective bargaining rights in states that do not currently provide them.
Fire departments benefit from productive partnerships between employers and employees. Studies have shown that communities promoting such cooperation enjoy more effective and efficient delivery of emergency services. Cooperation enables employers and workers to come together to confront difficult budgetary constraints, which proved invaluable as the country recovered from the last economic crisis. The best way to ensure such cooperation is through an established collective bargaining framework.
While many fire fighters and EMS workers already benefit from local collective bargaining laws, there are still many workers that have zero rights or whose laws do not provide adequate protection. Over the years, Congress has expanded the scope of collective bargaining laws to protect private sector employees, transportation workers, federal government employees and congressional employees. One of the few groups of workers not covered by federal law are state and local government employees, including fire fighters.
While Congress has historically given states and localities wide latitude in managing their own employees, ensuring fire fighters and EMS workers have basic collective bargaining rights is consistent with the increasing role of the fire/EMS community in protecting our nation’s homeland security.
The Fire Fighter and EMS Employer-Employee Cooperation Act would give fire fighters and EMS workers basic collective bargaining rights in states that currently do not provide them. The legislation gives states wide flexibility to write and administer their own laws, consistent with the following minimum standards:
- The right to form and join a labor organization and to have that organization be recognized through the formation and agreement of a contract.
- The right to bargain over working conditions, hours and wages.
- The ability to resolve disputes through an impasse resolution mechanism and, if an agreement is reached, the right to enforce it in court or through an administrative agency.
The legislation does not allow strikes or lockouts, does not infringe on right-to-work laws and does not interfere with existing state laws and collective bargaining agreements.
The Cooperation Act enjoys broad bipartisan support while protecting states’ rights
- The Fire Fighter and EMS Employer-Employee Cooperation Act has historically enjoyed broad and bipartisan support in Congress. When a similar act (for police and fire fighters) was last considered by the U.S. House of Representatives in the 110th Congress, the bill passed 314 to 97, with a majority of each party in favor.
- Last Congress, a cooperation act with fire and police was introduced in the House and had bipartisan support and 227 cosponsors.
- The bill gives maximum flexibility and ample time for states to craft their own laws, giving fire fighters and police officers the ability to sit down and talk with their employers. The Cooperation Act respects the uniqueness of each state’s employment needs and does not allow fire fighters or EMS workers the right to strike, does not cancel right-to-work laws and does not take away the authority of local jurisdictions to have the final say over public safety decisions.
Collective bargaining helps protect public safety
- The federal government has a vested interest in improving local emergency response operations through adequate staffing, training and equipment to better protect the security of the homeland. Robust and effective homeland security relies in large part on effective local first response agencies. It is to the benefit and within the ability of the government to ensure frontline responders can discuss with their employer how to best provide emergency services.
- The ability of fire fighters to talk about their job with employers protects public safety. Collective bargaining has produced measurable staffing, training, equipment and health and safety improvements throughout the nation’s fire departments – resulting in safer fire fighters and improved local emergency response capabilities. Civilian fatality rates for states that do not provide basic collective bargaining rights are, on average, higher than in states that do.
The Cooperation Act is a matter of fairness for public safety
- Fire fighters and emergency medical personnel risk their lives every day to protect the public. They deserve the same rights to discuss workplace issues with their employer that the federal government grants most other workers.
- There is a long history of providing collective bargaining rights to workers. The freedom to assemble is in the first Amendment of the Constitution and part of our Democratic tradition. These rights were further codified over 80 years ago for private sector workers through passage of the National Labor Relations Act; it is only right that those working on the frontlines be treated the same.
The Cooperation Act strengthens public safety retirement and wages
- Due to the dangerous nature of the profession, fire fighters are forced to retire early, putting an emphasis on smart retirement planning. Studies show that employers and employees who engage in collective bargaining result in fair pension contributions producing a more reliable retirement security.
- Collective bargaining can also strengthen earnings while still on the job. Eight of the top 10 states, in terms of disposable income, recognize the right to bargain for public employees. Nine of the bottom 10 states in per capita income do not allow collective bargaining for all public sector workers.