Congress Seeks to Bring Work Schedule Flexibilities to Federal Fire Fighters

March 20 • 2021

The Federal Firefighters Flexibility and Fairness Act allowing federal fire fighters to swap shifts has been reintroduced by a bicameral and bipartisan group of legislators. The Senate bill, S 838, is being led by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). He is joined by original cosponsors Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jon Tester (D-MT).  The House companion bill, HR 2059, was introduced simultaneously by Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD).

General President Harold A. Schaitberger says, “This important legislation gives federal fire fighters the ability to better manage their challenging schedules to create better work-life balances. It creates an opportunity that many non-federal fire departments already enjoy successfully – with no appreciable cost to the employer.”

Since the Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1985, trade time has been permissible for state, local and municipal professional fire fighters. Trade time allows fire fighters – with the approval of their supervisor – to trade shifts without affecting the pay of either fire fighter. The recently introduced legislation brings parity to the federal fire service.

Federal fire fighters work a 72-hour work week and many continue to work the antiquated 24 on 24 off shift schedule, which has a long history of disrupting work-life balance. Within the federal fire service, the ability to shift swap is an incremental step towards harmonizing a modern, more family-friendly work life. The ability to trade shifts is expected to offset some of the negatives associated with the 72-hour work week, including high levels of fatigue, behavioral health issues (typically found in cases of post-traumatic stress) and higher-than-average divorce rates.

The IAFF continues to work diligently to advance these important bills through the 117th Congress.