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Standing Up for Public Service Workers in San Diego

by Clyde Weiss  |  June 30, 2011

AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Lee A. Saunders and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton were in San Diego, Calif., this week to rally supporters against right-wing attacks on public service workers, including efforts to gut retirement security for new city workers.

Continuing a national tour for working families that has included Connecticut, New Jersey, and New Mexico, the labor and civil rights leaders struck a defiant tone against corporate interests and their supporters in Congress and statehouses who are trying to undermine collective bargaining rights, pensions, health care benefits and other basic worker rights.

“Here in San Diego, the elected leaders have a long history of breaking promises to the workers who provide basic, vital services,” Saunders said at a Town Hall meeting on June 27 at Bayview Baptist Church. Now, he noted, Mayor Jerry Sanders (R) and some city council members are pushing a ballot measure that would freeze salaries for five years and force new city employees into a 401(k) plan rather than a traditional pension plan.

“Their retirement security would be placed in the hands of Wall Street money managers – and we all know what kind of trouble they’ve gotten us into,” Saunders said.

Mayor Sanders also wants to privatize public services, claiming it will save money. “They are dismantling public services at the expense of San Diego taxpayers and working families,” said Joan Raymond, a city sanitation driver and president of Local 127 (AFSCME Council 36). Local 127 represents thousands of San Diego public service workers, including the city’s blue collar city employees.

Sharpton put the local struggle into a national perspective.

“This is not about budgets,” he said. “This is about their trying to gain power for some of the most reactionary forces that want the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor, and want to have fun playing us off against each other.”

Also at the Town Hall were Laura Reyes, president of UDW Homecare Providers Union (UDW/AFSCME), and Douglas Moore Jr., the union’s executive director. Both are also AFSCME International vice presidents. “Balancing the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens is wrong – plain and simple,” said Moore. “And I promise you, we will fight back.”

UDW represents 65,000 homecare providers who are also are being hurt by cuts to the In-Home Supportive Services program.

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