Sens. Van Hollen, Carper, Collins, Tester & Rep. Sarbanes Reintroduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Support Federal Firefighters
Bill Would Ensure Federal Firefighters Can Trade Shifts Without Risking Pay
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, along with Fire Services Caucus Co-Chairs Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) reintroduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to support our federal firefighters. Their legislation, the Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act, would allow federal firefighters to engage in trade time, enabling two firefighters to trade shifts without affecting pay or using annual leave. Allowing firefighters to engage in trade time ensures firehouses maintain staffing requirements and enhances their ability to keep our communities safe – while enabling firefighters to meet personal obligations without having to use annual leave.
This bill would correct a longstanding disparity between federal firefighters and state, local, and municipal firefighters, who have been able to engage in trade time since the 1985 Fair Labor Standards Act. Maryland is home to many professional federal firefighters, including those at the Naval Academy, Fort Meade, Fort Detrick and the Forest Glen Annex, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head, Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Institutes of Health.
“Our federal firefighters work tirelessly to help keep our communities safe – often working long and non-traditional hours. When something comes up, they deserve the ability to trade shifts without losing out on pay or annual leave,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This bill will provide federal firefighters with the flexibility they need to continue serving our communities while balancing their home and work lives.”
“America’s federal firefighters work tirelessly and gallantly to keep our communities safe – especially as we continue to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Congressman Sarbanes, who for a decade has led the U.S. House of Representatives in advancing the Firefighter Fairness and Flexibility Act. “We must provide the women and men in our federal firefighter corps with the same work-life balance and paycheck flexibility that state and local firefighters enjoy. They deserve nothing less.”
“In times of disaster or emergency, federal firefighters are always prepared to put themselves in harm’s way to protect both their neighbors, and, at times, fellow Americans living far away, often providing help when local resources are stretched thin,” said Senator Carper. “This critical bipartisan bill will make sure that our federal firefighters are able to utilize the same shift flexibility that their state, local, and municipal counterparts enjoy – flexibility that would allow them to fulfill their obligations at home -- without risking compensation. I’m proud to be joining my colleagues on this effort to ensure that we correct this inconsistency and that these heroes are properly compensated and not penalized when life simply requires flexibility.”
“In communities throughout the nation, dedicated firefighters put their lives on the line every day to keep our loved ones and our homes safe,” said Senator Collins. “Federal firefighters protect some of our nation’s most critical assets and infrastructure. To better accommodate the uncommon hours these brave men and women work, our bipartisan bill would allow federal firefighters to trade shifts without affecting their pay.”
“In recent years, wildfires in the West have become more and more extreme—forcing our federal firefighters to work even longer hours as they put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Tester. “This critical bill gives them more flexibility to balance their time at work and their time at home, all while saving taxpayer dollars. Shift-switching is already commonplace for state and local firefighters, and it just makes sense to extend that practice to the federal level as well.”
“This important legislation gives federal fire fighters the ability to better manage their challenging schedules to create better work-life balances. It creates an opportunity that many non-federal fire departments already utilize successfully - with no appreciable cost to the employer,” said International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold A. Schaitberger. “The IAFF appreciates Representative Sarbanes along with Senators Van Hollen, Carper, Collins, and Tester's bipartisan work introducing the Federal Fire Fighters Flexibility and Fairness Act.”
The full text of the Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act is available here.
In 1985, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act so that state, local, and municipal professional firefighters could engage in a practice called trade time. Trade time allows two firefighters, solely at their option and with the approval of their supervisor, to trade shifts without affecting the pay of either firefighter.
This change was made because firefighters work uncommon schedules involving 24 hour shifts and 72 hour work weeks, followed by a period of time away from the firehouse. Trade time enables firefighters to meet personal obligations such as attending a child's birthday or assisting a sick family member without exhausting their annual leave. It also ensures that firehouses across the country can maintain staffing requirements and keep our communities safe.
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