Our Priorities

AFSCME stands for the freedom to thrive from hard work in public safety. Harnessing the collective power of America’s largest public service union, we fight for better pay and benefits, expanded bargaining rights, safer working conditions, and to uphold the standard of professionalism for all those who protect the public.

Our fight goes beyond the bargaining table to the halls of government. AFSCME’s federal legislative agenda is bipartisan because improving lives and making communities safer is more important than party politics. Our agenda prioritizes federal legislation to provide funding and resources for public safety professionals,  protect benefits, and improve health and safety protections.

Recent Legislative Wins

  • Public Safety Officer Support Act of 2022. This law extends disability and death benefits for public safety officers who are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress or acute stress disorder on the job, including officers who have contacted employee assistance programs for mental health assistance. AFSCME supported this bipartisan bill and President Biden signed it into law August 2022 (P.L. 117-172).
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Law Enforcement Training Act. This law provides integral training and best practices for first responders and public safety officers to recognize and respond to the signs and symptoms of an individual in crisis due to a TBI or repeated exposure to traumatic events. AFSCME advocated for Congress to pass this bipartisan bill, which President Biden signed into law August 2022 (P.L. 117-170).
  • Improving Mental Health Benefits. Previously, state and local governments’ selfinsured health plans could elect to opt out of mental health care coverage for public safety officers. AFSCME supported this bipartisan legislation that closed the loophole. Plans must now treat mental health and substance use disorder benefits as they would any other medical benefits in terms of out-of-pocket costs and procedures like prior authorization or mental necessity determinations. Signed into law by President Biden December 2022 (P.L. 117-328).

Protections, Training and Benefits for Public Safety Officers

  • Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Safety Officers. AFSCME strongly supports protecting and expanding the rights of public safety officers to form strong unions and negotiate with their employers. The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act will put state and local government public safety officers on equal footing with other public servants. It will provide public safety officers with the freedom to form a union and will establish the ability to negotiate with their employer over wages and hours. This will promote greater cooperation between public safety agencies and their employees, which will result in more effective and more efficient delivery of emergency services that all our communities depend upon. AFSCME also supports the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which strengthens the rights of public employees to form a union, setting minimum nationwide standards for collective bargaining rights that all states must provide to public sector workers.
  • Protecting First Responders from Secondary Exposure Act of 2023 (S. 261/H.R. 795). Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced this bipartisan bill in the Senate and Reps. David Joyce (R-OH) and David Trone (D-MD) introduced the House companion bill. This bill would provide funding for state and local jails and prisons to obtain containment equipment and training to protect first responders from secondary exposure due to the rise of lethal drugs like fentanyl.
  • Public Safety Officer Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury Health Act of 2023 (S. 894/H.R. 2548). Introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) in the Senate and Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and Angie Craig (D-MN) in the House, this bipartisan legislation would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to collect and disseminate information on concussions and traumatic brain injuries among public safety officers and provide recommendations and protocols for identifying, treating and diagnosing concussions. It would also require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to disseminate information to mental health professionals on the connection between traumatic brain injuries and stress disorders and suicidal inclinations.
  • Protect and Serve Act of 2023 (H.R. 743). Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL) introduced bipartisan legislation referred to as the “anti-ambush bill,” which would establish a new criminal offense for knowingly targeting and assaulting a law enforcement officer, including a corrections officer, causing serious bodily injury.
  • Fighting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act of 2023 (S. 645/H.R. 472). Passed by voice vote in the Senate in March 2023, this bipartisan bill calls for the Attorney General to create a program to address the needs of public safety officers who have experienced job-related post-traumatic stress or acute stress disorder including preventative care. This legislation includes access to evidence-based trauma-informed care, peer support, counselor services and familial support for law enforcement officers as well as public safety telecommunicators.
  • Invest to Protect Act of 2023 (S. 1144). Introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, this bipartisan bill creates a grant program managed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to assist police departments with fewer than 200 law enforcement officers. These grants would allow for the hiring, retention and training of officers including signing and retention bonuses determined by local government; an educational stipend determined by local government toward graduate education in public health, mental health or social work; officer safety training; officer training in domestic violence situations; and body cameras. The Invest to Protect Act passed the House in the 117th Congress but did not come up for a vote in the Senate. AFSCME supports the House re-introduction of the Invest to Protect Act in the 118th Congress.
  • Home for Every Local Protector, Educator and Responder Act (HELPER Act). This bipartisan legislation was introduced in the 117th Congress and would make it easier for public safety officers and teachers to purchase their first home through a one-time home loan program under the Federal Housing Administration that would eliminate the need for a down payment along with monthly mortgage insurance. AFSCME supports the reintroduction of the HELPER Act in the 118th Congress.

AFSCME also supports legislation that would develop immersive, real-life, scenario-based trainings to improve officer safety, resilience and crisis intervention; the removal of a federal requirement that state and local governments must contribute funding for bulletproof vests in order to receive critical grants in honor of AFSCME fallen hero Wayne “Cotton” Morgan; and the closing of an unjust loophole in the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB) that excludes paramedics and EMTs employed by a private ambulance service who are killed in the line of duty.

Securing Retirement Equity for Public Safety Officers

  • Repealing the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) (S. 597/H.R. 82). Over two million workers nationally, including many public safety officers and their families, are hurt by the GPO and WEP. These two policies unfairly impact public employees who are excluded from Social Security coverage. AFSCME strongly supports repeal of these unfair laws.
  • Opposing Mandatory Social Security Coverage. When Social Security was first created, public employees were excluded from Social Security. State and local governments designed pension plans and retirement systems to fit the unique needs of public employees, and to deliver benefits that take the place of Social Security. For example, state and local plans take into consideration the typically earlier retirement age of law enforcement and other public safety officers as compared to other public employees. If the federal government mandates Social Security coverage for all existing or future employees, it will severely compromise the financial solvency of these state and local plans.

Increased Funding for State and Local Law Enforcement 

  • Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. The DOJ’s Byrne JAG program is the country’s leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. Designed to provide flexible funding to address a jurisdiction’s most pressing public safety challenges, it can be used for staffing issues, training and equipment, and to enhance rehabilitative programs in police, corrections and other criminal justice agencies/departments. AFSCME supports increasing funding to fully support these crucial grants and programs.
  • COPS, COPS Hiring, COPS Improvements. This DOJ program awards grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire and train law enforcement officers to participate in community policing, purchase and deploy new crime-fighting technologies, and develop and test new and innovative policing strategies. AFSCME urges Congress to fully fund this program.
  • Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grants. This matching federal grant program would help state and local governments buy armor vests for public safety officers. AFSCME urges Congress to support full funding for this program by allocating at least $30 million in annual funding, while continuing to pursue waivers for states that cannot afford to match within the program.
  • VALOR. The Violence Against Law Enforcement Officers and Ensuring Officer Resilience and Survivability is a program that seeks to provide immediate and long-term safety wellness and resilience in our public safety officers. The program provides no cost training, conducts research and provides resources that benefit law enforcement officers.

Fight Privatization of Public Safety Operations

  • Ban Private Prisons. AFSCME supports legislation and executive action that requires federal, state and local governments to directly operate and perform core safety services at prisons, jails and detention centers.