Bush to Veto 1st Responder's Union Rights  

Well, I hope the AFL-CIO doesn't mind me cross posting their stuff, cause I'm going to do it anyway:

The U.S. Senate today moved a step closer to approving legislation that would protect the collective bargaining rights of tens of thousands of firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and other public safety officers.

By a 69–29 vote, the Senate killed a filibuster led by several extreme anti-worker Republican senators against the workers’ rights bill. Eighteen Republicans joined all Democrats in backing the move to end the filibuster. The vote on final passage is expected later this week.

Some 20 states do not fully protect the bargaining rights of firefighters, police officers and other first responders. Two states—Virginia and North Carolina—prohibit public safety employees from collectively bargaining.

With final passage near certain, the only thing that stands in the first responders’ path to securing the workplace rights most other workers enjoy is a veto threat from the Bush administration. But today’s veto-proof vote, coupled with last July’s 314–97 House vote, provides more than the two-thirds majority needed in each chamber to overturn a veto.

Says Fire Fighters (IAFF) President Harold Schaitberger:

More than 80,000 of our brother and sister firefighters in more than 20 states do not currently enjoy basic employment rights. This bill will ensure that every firefighter has the right to collectively bargain.

The bill, the Public Safety Employee-Employer Cooperation Act of 2007 (H.R. 980), guarantees first responders:

The right to join a union.
The right to have their union recognized by their employer.
The right to bargain collectively over hours, wages and terms and conditions of employment.
A mediation or arbitration process for resolving an impasse in negotiations.
Enforcement of the bill’s provisions through the courts.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) says:

Fairness means firefighters and police officers having a voice at the table in life-and-death discussions about their work. They know best how to do their jobs effectively, efficiently and safely. Everyone benefits when they’re given the chance to share that knowledge at the bargaining table.

But last week in a letter to Senate leaders, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote they will suggest that President Bush veto the bill. In addition to the veto threat, the trio wrote that if first responders were allowed to join unions, it would hinder the nation’s ability to respond to terrorist and other threats.

Says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney:

This claim impugns the integrity of first responders who risked and sacrificed their lives on 9/11 and in the aftermath of Katrina. Every one of the 343 firefighters who perished at Ground Zero was a card-carrying union member.

In a May 12 response to the letter by Chao, Mukasey and Chertoff, Schaitberger said:

Your decision to attack the integrity of America’s firefighters cannot be left unanswered. Claiming that the legislation will hinder the nation’s ability to respond to terrorist attacks is both factually inaccurate and offensive. Every one of the 343 firefighters who perished at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, was a card-carrying union member who enjoyed collective bargaining rights. Most of the responders to the horrific tragedy were not even on duty that day. They simply did what firefighters always do: They put their own safety at risk to save the lives of others.

The same is true of the courageous responders to Hurricane Katrina. Despite losing their own homes and fearing for the security of their own families, union firefighters waded into the toxic floodwaters for days on end searching for survivors. To suggest that their collectively bargained contracts hindered these life-saving efforts flies in the face of reality.

Says Kennedy:

Collective bargaining is good for our national security, and it’s good for public safety officers. These heroic men and women deserve more than just our gratitude and respect. They deserve the right to be treated fairly on the job

The reason this is so important is that even when unions exist for firefighters, they still run into cities and other municipalities screwing them over kind of like the way that Calitics pointed out 2 months ago and CBS also ran a story on it...

Vallejo Fire Department temporarily closed two fire stations on Thursday in a deal with its firefighters union aimed at helping the city avoid bankruptcy, officials said.


Firefighters described the closings as a sad situation.

"Everyone's moving, everyone's getting new crews and we're all going to get a lot busier," said Fire Capt. Eric Diaz, who had been working out of station 22.

In addition to the closure of the fire stations, minimum staffing levels will be reduced from 28 firefighters to 22 firefighters per day as well as staffing reductions in Fire Administration, Fire Prevention and Fire Training Divisions, officials said.

From the Vallejo Firefighters local 1186

City Hall has not rescinded the paramedic layoffs - they have simply postponed their decision. Threatening lay-offs is an attempt to force firefighters to agree to the city's demand to reduce Vallejo 's minimum staffing requirement. Even paramedics who may lose their jobs will never agree to cut minimum staffing, because any cuts would jeopardize the safety of their fellow firefighters and the public. Firefighters took this job to protect the public, and they will gladly lose their jobs for the same reason - if City Hall persists in their threats.

To protect the city, we must have a combined total of 28 firefighters scheduled daily. The City wants to eliminate 4 positions per day. This would take us from 28 to 24 firefighters per shift. These cuts mean shutting down the ladder truck, closing additional engines/stations, laying off 13 paramedics, and an emergency services coordinator.

Communities like Vallejo have opted for lower taxes. Maintaining lower taxes means less revenue to pay for necessary services like Fire and Police. As a mom, this isn't an acceptable level of risk for my family.

A few years ago, my 12 year old was propositioned and then touched by a high school student as she walked home from school. The police in DC were so helpful. Although they never caught the kid who did it, my daughter felt like she had a safe place to go and someone she could call if she were in danger again. Not only did a horrible incident bring about her ability to find help and believe in herself, but it also illuminated for her and I the kind of work that our police do on a daily basis.

I won't try to sugar coat the lack of solidarity I see among 1st responders, it's there. They are called on to turn hoses on protests or to arrest demonstrators and I don't think we need to revisit the images of the recent American Axle Strike rally and a Detroit Police Officer chokeholding a woman crossing the street or the vile things he said to the strikers. There's work to do with First responders. Of course, I think the first step is to make sure that they can be represented by a union. Like the fire fighters in Vallejo. If they hadn't had a union, I have no doubt that the staffing numbers would have been further reduced.

When our safety is concerned, isn't it worth ensuring that 1st responders are able to be represented? I think it is. And now, let's work on that darn solidarity thing. Cause I have to also point out here that in typical McCain fashion, he didn't even bother to show up to vote on this. Clinton and Obama both voted yea. That should speak volumes to every American interested in their safety and it should be even more important to Police, Fire fighters and other first responders who often vote Republican. In the end, who's really got your back?

picture credit: local 1186 website

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