by Jon Melegrito | September 17, 2011
AFSCME Pres. Gerald McEntee tells more than 400 participants to this year’s Public Safety Congress that they are “part of the life and blood of this union. Your issues are our issues. Your concerns are our concerns.” (Photo by Luis Gomez)
Despite unprecedented attacks on AFSCME members’ jobs, benefits and collective bargaining rights, the union has the opportunity to work together as never before, AFSCME Pres. Gerald McEntee said in his keynote address today to the Public Safety Congress – a gathering of corrections and sworn law enforcement employees occurring this week in Houston.
The challenges facing the 400 attendees and their colleagues back home are many, McEntee said. “Whether it is a governor who is hell-bent on privatizing prisons, or a mayor who wants to cut pay and benefits,” McEntee said, finding ways to work together to counter them is “what this conference is all about.”
“This is a time of real opportunity to strengthen our vital partnership,” President McEntee added. “When it comes to keeping our union strong, AFSCME International and our 130,000 members in the public safety field are united. This weekend, let’s share information and learn about best practices. Let’s take our commitment to each other, and as a fighting union, to a new and higher level.” Attendees responded to the challenge with enthusiastic cheers.
Also addressing today’s morning session were City of Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker and Texas State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the criminal justice committee. “You can’t cut (budgets) without it affecting public safety and its employees,” Whitmire said. He received a standing ovation when he closed his speech with, “Make elections matter. Organize. Organize. Organize.”
An honor guard composed of members of AFSCME Texas Council 7 presented the colors during the opening ceremony.
Today’s program also featured a “Voices from the Frontlines” panel, where leaders and activists from Connecticut, Ohio and Wisconsin discussed their efforts to fight back against assaults on workers and threats to the middle class. The presenters were Capt. Joseph McNeil of the Stratford, Conn., police force, Corrections Officer Tim Shafer of OCSEA/AFSCME Local 11 and Marty Beil, executive director of Wisconsin Council 24.
The second day ended with regional roundtables and workshops on various issues, including collective bargaining, prison privatization, women and public safety, trends in pensions and “The 3 Ds of Social Media: The Dos, the Don’ts and the Dangers.”