September 24, 2020

Van Hollen, Carper, Collins, Tester Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Enhance Shift Flexibility for Federal Firefighters

Currently, Federal Firefighters Cannot 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 Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Co-Chairs Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), introduced a bipartisan bill to allow federal firefighters to engage in trade time, enabling two firefighters to trade shifts without affecting pay or using 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. 

Allowing firefighters to engage in trade time lets 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 legislation is supported by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.). 

“Our federal firefighters work tirelessly to help keep our communities safe. But unlike their state and local counterparts, they can’t trade shifts without risking consequences – instead, they are left with the unfair choice of losing out on pay or annual leave if they need to adjust their work schedule,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This bill would correct a decades-long disparity and ensure that federal firefighters can continue serving our communities while balancing their home and work lives.” 

“Recent wildfires plaguing our West Coast remind us of the sacrifices that firefighters make every day on behalf of their fellow citizens,” said Senator Carper. “In times of disaster or emergency, these heroes run toward danger and help those who cannot help themselves. Federal firefighters are always at the ready and prepared to risk their lives to protect both their neighbors and, at times, fellow Americans living far away. But federal firefighters do so without the shift flexibility that state, local and municipal firefighters have – flexibility that allows them to fulfill obligations at home, address their own health, care for their families, and much more.  This bill is an important step in ensuring that those who answer the call for help are properly compensated and not penalized when life simply requires flexibility.” 

“Every day across the country, firefighters put their lives on the line to keep our communities 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.” 

“Federal firefighters provide an invaluable service protecting our military installations, national laboratories, Veterans Medical Centers, and in our communities. The high stress and demands of the job often make it difficult for these dedicated emergency responders to find a balance between home and work life.  The IAFF appreciates Senators Van Hollen, Carper, Collins, and Tester for their work introducing the Federal Fire Fighters Flexibility and Fairness Act, which will provide parity to our federal fire fighters, allowing them to exchange shifts when necessary, a flexibility the law has long permitted municipal and state fire fighters to utilize,” said Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of IAFF. 

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.