Firefighters Union subdues Senate GOP caucus

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday agreed to consider bipartisan legislation to extend collective bargaining rights to police and firefighters in states that do not currently offer such labor protections. By 69-29, senators agreed to invoke cloture, and thus limit debate, on a motion to proceed to consideration of the measure, which the House passed last summer by 314-97.

In both chambers, there was unusual Republican support for a bill backed by labor unions and their Democratic allies; 98 House Republicans voted for the bill in that chamber, and 18 Senate Republicans joined in the vote to limit debate and call up the measure.

The vote suggests that there will be sufficient support to pass the measure, possibly by enough votes to surmount a threatened presidential veto. The measure would give police and fire fighters the right to unionize — but not strike — in any municipality with a population of more than 5,000.

“Collective bargaining is good for our national security and it’s good for public safety officers,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy , D-Mass. “These heroic men and women deserve more than just our gratitude and respect. They deserve the right to be treated fairly on the job.”

The White House leveled a veto threat against the bill in a statement of administration policy, and also questioned whether it is constitutional.

Of the 11 Republican cosponsors, five are up for re-election in 2008, and another four face contests in 2010. Many received low ratings from the AFL-CIO in its most recent scoring of lawmakers’ voting record on labor-related issues.

But while certain senators may be courting support from police and fire unions, which strongly back the bill, mayors and other local leaders in the affected states oppose the measure, saying it could impose runaway costs on local governments.

“I think many of them were led to believe that this was a free vote,” said Neil Bomberg, chief legislative counsel for the National League of Cities, which opposes the bill.


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