Public employees: Celebrating our progress and facing our challenges

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The public employee division meeting celebrated the progress made by the division’s affiliates in the past two years and acknowledged the challenges that lie ahead.

Singled out were success stories in places like Connecticut, where public employee unions have negotiated a popular wellness program, and North Dakota, where the AFT-affiliated North Dakota Public Employees Association and the North Dakota Education Association merged to form the state’s largest public employee union.

But also noted was the situation in Illinois, where AFT affiliates and other unions are challenging an effort to roll back pension benefits, as well as the ongoing battle in Wisconsin, where labor continues to fight Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-worker policies.

Susan Kent, president of the New York State Public Employees and an AFT vice president, shared with meeting participants the story of how a coalition of clergy, union members, patients, community leaders and others prevented the privatization of SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, which would have resulted in the loss of vital medical services to some of New York City’s most vulnerable citizens.

In her remarks to the meeting, AFT Executive Vice President Francine Lawrence applauded the public employee leaders and activists for advocating “on behalf of not just our members but those you serve.”

Lawrence criticized the “misguided policies” of those who call for privatization and austerity. “You are the ones with the solutions to improve the delivery of public services,” she told those in attendance.

Public Services International General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli said that, across the world, the public sector and public employees are increasingly the target of those who want to make a profit at the expense of workers and public services. Their goal is reduced public sector funding, the outsourcing of services, and collective bargaining reform that would weaken unions.

Public employees must respond to this challenge by showing that “we can ensure quality public services and, at the same time, ensure public sector jobs,” Pavanelli said.

Among those recognized during the meeting was Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the United Nations Staff Union, which recently voted to join the AFT.

[Roger Glass]

July 11, 2014