The IAFF held its first virtual Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference June 28. Led by General President Edward Kelly, the Conference provided registrants with details and updates on three IAFF legislative priorities: providing collective bargaining rights for all fire fighters and emergency medical personnel, ensuring early retirees can purchase Medicare coverage at 50 and establishing presumptive disability benefits for federal fire fighters. Additionally, strategies for lobbying these issues, especially in the virtual environment, were provided.
“The IAFF’s top priority will always be to protect its members. To do that, we must be involved in politics,” said General President Kelly. “We must demand a seat at the table with anyone who is making decisions about our health and safety. These aren’t democratic or republican issues. These are fire fighter issues.”
“When we work as a team, we win,” said General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma. “We must be united when we fight for things that will help us, like collective bargaining and when we fight against things that are harmful to our health like PFAS.”
Collective bargaining has been the IAFF’s top priority for more than two decades. The last time the legislation came close to passing was in 2007. Now, the political environment is once again ripe for the bill’s consideration, and the IAFF is optimistic about the collective bargaining bill’s future.
The Fire Fighters and EMS Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (S 2178/HR 2586) will ensure all fire fighters and emergency service personnel have basic collective bargaining rights. While many already do, more than 80,000 IAFF members do not.
Speaking from his congressional office, U.S. Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) explained why he is sponsoring the bill.
“Strong labor unions and worker rights are essential for a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” said Representative Kildee. “I am proud to support legislation to ensure IAFF members have the right to fight for fair wages and safe working conditions. You serve our communities every day, regardless of personal risk, and deserve critical workers’ rights, including the ability to collectively bargain.”
The Expanding Health Care Options for Early Retirees Act (S 2236/HR 4148), if passed, would allow retired first responders – fire fighters, emergency medical services personnel and police officers – to buy into Medicare beginning at age 50.
The IAFF believes now is the best time to advocate for this legislation as federal lawmakers are seeking to make healthcare more affordable for all Americans and numerous proposals to expand healthcare coverage, including proposals to lower the age of Medicare eligibility.
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act would provide presumptive protections for federal fire fighters in case of heart and respiratory disease, cancers and infectious diseases .
Currently, federal fire fighters have no presumptive protections, save for a temporary COVID-19 presumption. Meanwhile, in 48 states, state and municipal fire fighters are already protected by presumptive laws for various kinds of occupational health conditions.
The passage of this legislation would put the federal fire fighters on par with their state and municipal counterparts.
At the conclusion of the Conference, IAFF members heard from U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.
“I have known General President Kelly since his earliest days as a union leader in Boston, so, I know IAFF members could have no one better out there fighting for them,” said Secretary Walsh. “And the Biden/Harris administration will do its part to support issues important to IAFF members, like collective bargaining which promotes a fair, equitable and safe working environment.”
Details and supporting materials on the IAFF’s legislative priorities are on the Legislative Conference website.