As president of one of the leading public sector unions in this country, I see firsthand and hear stories every day about workers who make a difference in their communities and in people’s lives—healing the sick, unlocking a child's mind or improving a family's life. That is who our members are: all 1.6 million.
Yet, too often, these workers face a barrage of scurrilous attacks denigrating them and the work they do—from sources that simply wish to eliminate these essential public services and silence those who do the work.
That's why Teacher Appreciation Week, National Nurses Week and Public Service Recognition Week—all being celebrated this week in May—are more than simply a Hallmark card moment. These events offer an opportunity. They offer a moment we can join together to talk about the teachers, nurses and other public service workers who have changed our lives in small and big ways. Today, we can say thank you.
The more stories we tell, the louder our chorus will become—until we have created a deafening roar about everyday local heroes who deserve not just our appreciation, but also need us to listen to them. This is what stops those who try to turn everyday local heroes into scapegoats for the larger problems—such as poverty in our schools or understaffing in our hospitals or austerity measures—because our opponents would rather denigrate others than roll up their sleeves and solve problems.
Everyday local heroes like Mr. Swift, my English teacher and drama director at Clarkstown High School North in New City, N.Y., who taught me to both manage a stage and to speak in class—lessons that help me to this day. Everyday local heroes like Jill Cohenour, a chemist from Montana who keeps the drinking water safe for her neighbors. Everyday local heroes like Christina Enriquez, a public health nurse in Washington, who provides support services to expecting and new moms.
In cities and towns across our nation, there are millions of everyday heroes just like them. And the more we tell their stories, the more we remind everyone that these are the people who are doing the work, each and every day, to build a better future for all of us. This week is our chance to say “thank you” to these teachers, nurses and public employees who make a difference every day in the lives of kids, families and communities.
As we celebrate these workers, we also need to amplify their voices. We need to give them the tools, resources and support they need to do their jobs. When we listen to the people who wake up every morning and walk into the classroom, hospital or public agency to expand opportunities, save lives or provide vital services, we come to a better understanding of what we need to do to reclaim the promise of America. We know that supporting these individuals means supporting the people they serve—our children, our families, our communities. That's the way to really show our gratitude.
Throughout this week, and beyond, I hope you will join me, together with parents, students and communities, in lifting up teachers, nurses and public employees both in person and online. So, #thankateacher, #thankanurse and support a public employee by sharing how #governmentworks for you.