Uniting to reclaim the promise of high-quality public services

Randi Weingarten, AFT President

Randi WeingartenFOR A GENERATION NOW, public services at every level of government have been defunded, sold off, privatized and cut back. Public employees have been demonized. They have been forced to do much more with much less. Their salaries have been cut, and their pensions have been raided. As a consequence, the services our communities depend upon to maintain a decent quality of life have been diminished.

We know that our public employee members are sick and tired of the attacks, and yet, despite fewer resources, they soldier on, committed to the health, safety and well-being of the people they serve. We also know, from our alliances and interactions with the broader community, that people are beginning to understand the connection between high-quality services and the strength of the community. That is why we have launched a special effort across the country to reclaim the promise of high-quality public services for strong communities. AFT public employee members across the country are taking action to reclaim the promise in a variety of ways.

SUNY Downstate Medical Center is a large hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., with extraordinary services provided by exemplary doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff, all of whom are state employees. As a result of poor management decisions, this hospital, which serves an extremely diverse Brooklyn community, is threatened with closing. Our union has worked with community leaders to develop a plan to keep SUNY Downstate open and address the healthcare needs of the entire Brooklyn community. This plan can be found at www.brooklynhospitalplan.org.

In Connecticut, state employees represented by 15 different unions with 34 separate contracts have come together in a long-standing, legislatively mandated State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) in order to bargain with the state administration and come up with solutions to the problems facing state employee pensions and healthcare. Their efforts have paid off with huge cost savings and improved delivery of healthcare services to state employees. Their success may now be extended to local government employees in Connecticut as well.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback and the state Legislature have cut taxes so drastically that the delivery of public services has been threatened across the board. Additionally, public employees’ pensions have been cut, and government services have been privatized. As a result, public employees in every agency of government, along with local government employees and school board employees, have come together in two statewide alliances with the broader community—Keeping the Kansas Promise and the Working Kansas Alliance—in order to fight the cuts and call for full funding for high-quality public services.

The mayor and city council in Anchorage, Alaska, have acted to limit the bargaining rights of city employees and their voice on the job. Here again, our union has partnered with the community to take a stand. It has filed petitions that will now put the measure on the ballot for a public referendum.

In Montana, our MEA-MFT affiliate has long publicized the outstanding services provided by our public employee members across the state through its Work that Matters program. Essential services that provide, maintain or protect clean water, public safety, roads and bridges, healthcare, education and natural resources, to name a few, are delivered by trained and talented public employees committed to their work and to the service of the community. Through Work that Matters and our work with community organizations, decision-makers and the broader community are more aware of the contributions made by Montana’s public employees.

By reaching out to the community, and by developing solutions that meet the needs of our members as well as those we serve, we can join with the rising tide of support for sensible policies to advance the common good. Our Reclaiming the Promise effort is a multifaceted approach to address the attacks on public services, to link up with community partners, and to take a solution-driven approach to the challenges we face. Our affiliates are using a variety of approaches to address the circumstances where they live and work, but together we are united in our goal to build support for public employees and stronger communities.

Join us in this effort. Use the materials we have put together as part of our public employees Reclaiming the Promise program. Together, we can reclaim the promise of high-quality public services for strong communities.

Where We Stand, Public Employee Advocate, Spring 2014