Senate: Let First Responders Unionize

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would give police officers, firefighters and other first responders the right to unionize but take away their ability to go on strike.

The 69-29 procedural vote proved the measure would survive any possible filibuster attempt. The Senate will vote to send the legislation to President Bush later this week.

The bill would guarantee public safety officers the right to join unions and bargain over wages, hours and conditions of employment. It also would ban them from going on strike.

States could exempt towns with fewer than 5,000 people or fewer than 25 full time employees.

"Fairness means fire fighters and police officers having a voice at the table in life-and-death discussions about their work," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. "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."

Republicans called the bill payback for union help in elections.

"While American families are facing an uncertain economy, Democrats are shamefully pushing another job-killing bill to help line the pockets of organized labor," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "Let's be honest: This bill is a political payoff to big labor bosses, whose political support is needed to keep Democrats in charge of Congress."

Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, interrupting their presidential campaigns, voted to begin debate on the bill. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, was not present.

Three of Bush's Cabinet secretaries, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff say they will suggest that Bush veto the bill.

Chuck Canterbury, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said President Bush has assured the FOP that he will sign the bill. "On three separate occasions, the president has personally assured us he would sign this bill if it reached his desk. I will ask him to reject the advice of his advisers and sign the bill," he said.

The bill passed the House in July on a 314-97 vote, which along with the Senate vote, would be enough to override a presidential veto.

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On the Net:

The bill number is HR 980.

For bill text: http://thomas.loc.gov

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