From the IAFF
I am very pleased to announce a monumental victory for the IAFF's legislative program. Today, Congress passed our legislation authorizing the federal government to provide funds to hire 75,000 new fire fighters. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.
Each of you are leaders and activists, I know you understand the importance of this coup. SAFER was vehemently opposed by President Bush and his administration. Many Congressional leaders decried this initiative as too costly and "an inappropriate use of federal dollars." But, in spite of these long odds, we won.
I want to congratulate my Assistant Kevin O'Connor, Legislative Director Barry Kasinitz, and their staffs for a superb job in lobbying this proposal and navigating the many obstacles standing in the way of passage.
Likewise, we would not have been successful without the support, assistance, and determination of our Congressional allies who employed some ingenious tactics to advance the legislation. The key breakthrough came when Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) offered SAFER as an amendment to the annual Defense Authorization (HR 1588). The amendment passed by voice vote, although several Senators privately admitted that they only voted for the provision because they were sure that it would be stripped in the House-Senate conference committee.
But those predictions failed to account for the strong support and advocacy for SAFER from Reps. Sherry Boehlert (R-NY) and Curt Weldon (R-PA). Boehlert, the author of SAFER and the Chair of the House Science Committee, quickly scheduled a hearing on the legislation to bolster the arguments for the legislation. Weldon then used his position as a senior Member on the Defense Authorization conference to ensure that the bill would be included in the final package. In addition to Dodd, Weldon, and Boehlert, other Members of Congress who played starring roles in the sometimes tense negotiations included Senators John Warner (R-VA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Carl Levin (D-MI) and Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Jack Quinn (R-NY), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Ike Skelton (D-MO), and Gene Green (D-TX).
Under the new law, Fire Departments will be eligible to receive grants to help pay the salary and benefits of hiring new fire fighters over a five year period. In the first year, the federal government will contribute up to 90% of the cost, 80% in the second year, 50% the third year, and 30% in the fourth. The jurisdiction is then required to pay the full amount for at least one additional year. The total federal funds for each position cannot exceed $100,000 over the five year period. This program is authorized for next fiscal year. Consequently, the first set of gramts will not be made until after October 1, 2004. Now, we must turn our attention to the appropriations process to ensure that the program is fully funded.
The IAFF also scored a major victory for our federal fire fighters in the same Department of Defense (DoD) Authorization. The Bush administration attempted to remove Defense Department employees from current laws governing pay, benefits, and collective bargaining rights. Last year, the administration had successfully foisted similar draconian work rules on employees at the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Emboldened by that victory, Secretary Rumsfeld attempted to employ the same tactics at DoD.
Led by 16th District Vice President James Johnson, the IAFF fought back with a vengeance, and successfully defended fire fighter pay. While the pay of other defense employees is now in jeopardy, the new law requires DoD to abide by the provisions of the hard fought Federal Fire Fighter Pay Equity Provision won during the 106th Congress.
And DoD was forced to retreat from its proposal to strip federal workers of their collective bargaining rights. Under a compromise agreement, DoD will be able to craft new labor relations rules, but those rules will be subject to strict specifications. In addition, the conference report accompanying the legislation contains language signaling Congress' intent to retain existing collective bargaining rights of fire fighters and other public safety employees. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) led the fight in conference to protect the interests of our federal fire fighters and we owe them both our gratitude.
The IAFF will be working closely with officialsl at the Department of Defense and Members of Congress in the months ahead to ensure that the collective bargaining rights of IAFF members are retained in any new personnel systems.
These successes demonstrate that the IAFF's approach to building bi-partisan coalitions really works. Our efforts in Washington coupled with your grass roots efforts at home really made the difference on both SAFER and the federal fire fighters issues. I thank you for your support and efforts. Keep up the good work!