(BISMARCK, N.D.) – Democratic-NPL legislators were joined by firefighters from across the state at a press conference Monday to highlight the importance of HB 1401, legislation that would establish collective bargaining rights for North Dakota’s law enforcement officers and paid, full-time firefighters.

“I think people have a high degree of respect for police and firefighters, and genuinely appreciate their sacrifices,” said Rep. Mary Schneider (D-21), the primary sponsor of HB 1401. “I think many people would appreciate the opportunity to help our first responders improve their working conditions by allowing them to negotiate the terms of their employment.”

“When you look at the core values of a firefighter, you find that we have a lot of ownership in our communities,” said Bill Bush, president of Fargo Firefighters Local 642. “We’re committed, we’re dedicated, we protect and serve without prejudice, and we make a positive impact in peoples’ lives. This legislation is about firefighters and law enforcement officers, from Williston to Fargo, having the opportunity to negotiate based on their immediate needs and priorities.”

Currently, North Dakota is one of only a handful of states that does not allow public safety employees, including law enforcement officers and full-time firefighters, to negotiate a contract. HB 1401 would bring North Dakota in line with nearly all other U.S. states that afford these rights to public-sector first responders.

Approximately 20 firefighters from Bismarck, Mandan, Minot and Fargo joined Reps. Schneider and Ron Guggisberg (D-11) to speak about the importance of HB 1401. Several first responders were joined at the press conference by their children and families.

“For me, this bill is about elected officials matching their words with actions when it comes to standing up for first responders,” said Guggisberg, who is also a Fire Capitan in Fargo. “Elected officials often pay lip service to first responders, but when the cameras go away, they’re on their own. This bill would allow public safety employees to take the politics out of their work and have a say in the conditions of their employment.”

Grant Benjamin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, provided a letter of support for HB 1401, which read in part:

“We are only asking for the opportunity to have a say in open conversations with our agencies to discuss working conditions. This bill is much needed. To pass this bill would allow law enforcement officers to represent our members in matters of employer and employee relations. Currently, we have officers and deputies who are willingly placed in a position of danger by the commissioners they work for. Deputies and sheriffs have requested additional funding for resources only to be denied. Our members are working close to 900 square miles per deputy. This places the deputies and communities they protect in danger. This bill would allow us to work with our commissioners to request and come to reasonable terms to add more resources to keep our communities safe.”