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Workers’ Voices Keep Our Communities Safe

by Lee Saunders  |  March 07, 2016

This article was first published in the Winter 2016 edition of AFSCME Works. Click here to download the full magazine.

Workers’ Voices Keep Our Communities Safe AFSCME President Lee Saunders

Our voices as public service workers are essential for the wellbeing of our communities.

Just ask Bart Andersen, a former bridge inspector for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Bart was one of the bridge inspectors who for years warned about the dangerously poor conditions on the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, which collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007. Thirteen people were killed on that day, and 145 injured.

This was not an accident; it was a tragedy. The hostage incident at Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio, in which a corrections officer was taken hostage by a male inmate, was also no accident. It happened because, despite warnings about short-staffing, she was left alone in the presence of a violent felon.

These and many other daily lapses in public safety are preventable events. Most don’t even make the news. But we can prevent them if we listen to the workers who do these jobs.

We Never Quit

It’s important for our communities to know that, as public service workers, we never quit. Our streets will always need cleaning, our neighborhoods will always demand safety. We do this work not to get rich, but because it matters.

We need to take this message seriously because it’ll help us win. The way public service workers speak with one voice is through our union. It’s through AFSCME that corrections officers get a seat at the table with management and help prevent unsafe situations. It’s through AFSCME that police and firefighters and EMT workers can improve the life-saving services we provide in our communities. It’s through AFSCME that Bart Anderson became an advocate for bridge safety and is raising awareness about our national infrastructure crisis.

No matter how vicious the attacks against us, we’ll always stand up for our communities.

Never quit: That’s always been who we are and it’s our message from now on. The next time someone asks you what you do, tell them you’re a public service worker and you never quit. Practice this message with your friends and family. Say it proudly.

Major Threat to Our Voice

If the Supreme Court sides with wealthy special interests in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, it could diminish our right to a strong voice on the job. But we'll never quit fighting for our rights and our voice. We’re building member power through AFSCME Strong, and we urge all AFSCME members to get involved.

As Vincent Variale, a New York EMS lieutenant who responded to the September 11 attacks, puts it, without a voice, “Police, firefighters, EMS and first responders won’t be able to push for life-saving equipment and shorter response times, and social workers won’t be able to push for better nurse-to-patient ratios. Our teachers … would lose the ability to negotiate for smaller class sizes and improved educational standards.”

It’s up to us to stand stronger than before. Now it's more important than ever.

Without a strong voice for public service workers, communities all across the country will suffer.

We’re AFSCME.  And we never quit.

Next: Stepping Up the Fight for Gender Equality
Previous: Never Quit: Louise Lex, 86, Just Wants to Help People

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