KC Labor Beacon, January 1, 2024
By: Missouri State Representative Aaron Crossley
Organized labor is having a moment. A truly grassroots effort to protect workers and organized labor from a system that all too often discounts their contribution has grown, as workforces across the country in sectors as diverse as manufacturing, retail, entertainment, the service industry, and beyond. According to Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, there have been over 1,000 strikes across the United States this year, and even more general labor actions.
In more good news, not only is the labor movement growing in popularity, but they’re winning at the negotiating table. They’re securing historic contracts that include not just pay raises and benefits, but long-term solutions to pressing issues that will bring stability. The Hollywood Strikers even made the shortlist for the 2023 TIME Magazine Person of the Year.
However, while massive, important gains have been made in the private sector, we also need to remember that public sector workers — no matter where they work — deserve the same rights and protections, especially those who put their lives on the line to protect the people of their communities.
That’s why I filed the “First Responders’ Bill of Rights” to add much-needed worker protections for Missouri’s paid and volunteer firefighters, emergency medical service workers, dispatchers, paramedics, emergency maintenance technicians and emergency medical technicians.
While this bill does not increase wages or benefits (that would go through the appropriations process, and in the case of firefighters, local ballot initiatives and bargaining), it does promote fairness and accountability in the workplace. Workers know that working somewhere is not just about the monetary compensation, but that working in an environment and within a structure that treats you with dignity and respect, that cares about your well-being, also plays an important factor in where and why a worker does what they do for a living.
Should this bill make it into law, first responders across our state will have a new set of rights and protections under the law from potential malfeasance and malpractice committed by their employers and administrators. It will safeguard the rights of first responders during administrative investigations to ensure fair treatment and due process and it sets conditions for the timely completion of investigations, ensuring that disciplinary decisions are made promptly and within a reasonable timeframe. It will also enforce confidentiality and privacy protections for first responders and their families, including restrictions on the release of personal information and assets.
This legislation will also protect first responders’ constitutional rights, ensuring they can engage in political activities, seek public office and express their opinions without fear of reprisal from their employer while off duty.
Most of these protections already exist for firefighters and first responders in Missouri’s metro areas. But smaller unions in more rural areas do not enjoy these same protections.
We have the power to make Missouri a better place for all workers, no matter where they live.
With the unified support and voice of the labor movement, I believe we can get a bill like this across the finish line and into statute. I know I’ll be fighting hard for it to pass, and I hope I can carry even half the energy, passion and determination through the halls of the statehouse that people across the country have taken to the picket line this year.
About the Author
Representative Aaron Crossley, a Democrat, represents part of Jackson County (District 29) in the Missouri House of Representatives. He was elected to his first two-year term in November 2022.
In addition to his service in the legislature, Crossley works as a behavioral health business strategist and project manager at a local safety net hospital. He is also an adjunct professor teaching the social workers of tomorrow at a local university. Crossley is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and has spent two decades working in roles centered on social and community service.
He holds degrees from Appalachian Bible College and the University of Missouri – Kansas City.
Born in Independence, Crossley resides there today with his wife, Jessica. They have a son and a daughter. Crossley is a member of the St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.