WASHINGTON -- The House on Tuesday voted to give all police, firefighters and other first responders the right to collective bargaining, although the legislation also would keep them from going on strike.
The bill, passed 314-97, gives public safety officers the right to join unions and bargain over wages, hours and conditions of employment.
"Our firefighters and police officers risk their lives to keep us safe," said Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., the sponsor of the legislation. "Yet there are some states in this country that deny them the basic right to discuss workplace issues with their employers, a right many Americans have. At the very least, they should be allowed to negotiate for wages, hours and safe working conditions."
Two states, Virginia and North Carolina, prohibit public safety officers from collective bargaining. Twenty other states don't fully protect collective bargaining rights for firefighters, police officers, corrections officers and emergency medical service workers, supporters said.
"By guaranteeing the right of these courageous first responders to collective bargaining in all 50 states, the House has gone on record in favor of better wages, benefits and working conditions for men and women who keep watch over our neighborhoods and protect our nation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference with first responders on the Capitol steps.
One who spoke out was Marshall E. Thielen, a police officer and president of the Fairfax Coalition of Police in Fairfax, Va., where there is no collective bargaining.
"We should have a voice and we should be able to sit down with management and not have to use other tactics," he said.
Ninety-eight Republicans voted for the bill.
"It does not allow public safety officers to go on strikes," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla. "It does not pre-empt state right-to-work laws. This bill does not require compulsory unionism. This does not require binding arbitration. I think we all agree that firefighters and police officers risk their lives every single day and they are entitled to make fair wages and have working conditions that are safe as possible."
The Republicans who voted against the bill say Democrats are just trying to pay back their union supporters.
"Let's not mince words," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "This bill is not concerned with public safety. It's a payoff from the left to the powerful labor unions that finance many of their campaigns."
They also complained that the legislation is an infringement on states' rights.
"State and local governments are capable of managing their own public employees," said Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report