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House sneaks in bill giving collective bargaining rights to first responders

July 13th, 2010  |  Matt Pavich

Sometimes, playing it sneaky is the right thing to do

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (PSEECA), which, if enacted, would give firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel with collective bargaining rights in states and localities that do not currently provide them. Currently, only half the states give first responders the right to bargain collectively and, according to Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, this bill will provide basic guarantees to first responders, but will prohibit them from “…engaging in a lockout, sickout, work slowdown, strike, or any other organized job action that will disrupt the delivery of emergency services.”

So what was so sneaky about it? The House only passed PSEECA by incorporating it into the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010, a bill that the House had to pass in order to keep the trains moving on time. Why did the House have to resort to such tactics to provide the men and women who are the first on the scene when disaster strikes with the same rights as your average dock-workers? Because anti-union groups got their dander up over the perceived giveaway to unions.

Doug Stafford, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, argued the bill would be more appropriately named the “Police and Firefighter Monopoly Bargaining Bill,” saying that “…the ultimate goal of this legislation is to force every firefighter and police officer in the country under union boss control, whether the individual public safety officers want it or not.”

Sounds ominous. But a look at the bill shows it’s a good days work on behalf of the first responders.

PSEECA would establish minimum collective bargaining rights standards for these employees and would vest the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) with regulatory and enforcement powers. It would give first responders the right to form a union and bargain over hours, wages, and terms and conditions of employment. It would also provide them with an impasse resolution mechanism, such as mediation, fact-finding or arbitration and would give them the ability to have these basic rights enforced, including the right of the two parties to sign legally enforceable contracts.

Doesn’t sound so bad and it’s the guess here that the only reason groups like the NRWC opposed the bill is because it opens the door to a raft of representation campaigns. PSEECA’s prospects remain uncertain. Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also introduced it as an amendment to the Senate’s version of the Appropriations Bill, he quickly withdrew it. But if the Senate can follow the people’s house, it might just demonstrate that, even in today’s bitterly partisan Washington, some good work can be done.