Where We Stand

Advancing the common good

By Randi Weingarten, AFT President

LISA OCHS, president of AFT-Kansas and the Kansas Organization of State Employees, gave us our marching orders at the AFT 2014 convention in Los Angeles with these words: “All public services have a vital role to play in combating the harms caused by both the recession and inequality, with investments in these services and in our economic infrastructure being absolutely essential to put Americans back to work and move our economy forward.”

Ochs and the many other AFT public employee members who were part of an inspiring and invigorating four days of conversation, debate and solidarity took these words and turned them into union policies for how to reclaim the promise of America.

One such policy included a promise to our newest members, the United Nations Staff Union. Already, we are helping these dedicated international public workers fight against an attack on their rights by putting the full power of our union to work for them.Randi Weingarten

Public service workers are the backbone of our communities, which is why AFT public employee members are leading the fight to reclaim the promise of high-quality public services to fulfill our collective obligation to advance the common good.

Our union reiterated this commitment with a resolution calling for state and local revenue systems that are adequate, stable and truly fair by ensuring that community tax dollars are properly invested into local communities and that the resources are used effectively and responsibly.

At the same time, AFT delegates resolved to fight the troubling tide of privatization that aims to put many of our nation’s dedicated public employees in the unemployment line. For AFT members in Alaska, Connecticut, Kansas, New York and throughout the nation, this is one of the biggest fights of our generation—as workers, as community members, as Americans. An additional resolution calls for U.S. trade policy that does more to protect working families and less to defend corporations and investors, by enhancing labor rights and workers’ voices on the job.

AFT delegates also pledged to advocate for resources to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure—once the envy of the world—which is now in dire straits with one in nine of our nation’s bridges deemed structurally deficient, and an electrical grid that is an aging and leaking patchwork.

This resolution also calls on our union to advocate for a national infrastructure bank that will develop innovative ways to fund and build the vital projects that will improve the competitiveness of our economy, efficiency of our services, and safety of our built environment—and create good American jobs.

In a like-minded effort to continue to improve public services and working conditions for public employees, AFT delegates recognized that when workers are under extreme stress caused by bullying on the job, the quality of public services suffers. The delegates passed a resolution to end workplace harassment and commit resources to advocate for continued research, state legislation and the promulgation of federal workplace violence prevention standards.

These and other policies exemplify a commitment to solution-driven unionism that engages our members and strengthens our community partnerships.

As I emphasized in my convention address, we cannot sit back and wait for the privatizers, austerity hawks, polarizers and deprofessionalizers to turn our high-quality public services into outsourced, on-the-cheap shambles. And the first step is to vote this November.

Elections matter. They determine who nominates Supreme Court justices. We are one justice away from having a fairer court, or from losing more and more rights.

Elections matter. They determine whether we have allies in Congress who will continue to push for the Marketplace Fairness Act, which aims to level the playing field between in-state and out-of-state retailers. This bill could bring in $23 billion in new revenues to help fund quality public services by allowing state governments to collect taxes for products sold to their residents by out-of-state retailers.

Elections matter. They mean the difference between a Mary Burke and a Scott Walker in Wisconsin, or a Paul Davis and a Sam Brownback in Kansas.

This election, we have a chance to fight back against those who demonize, demoralize and aim to destroy us and fight forward with a vision for a nation in which we reclaim the promise of quality public services for strong communities.

And while we will never outspend our opponents, we will outwork and out-organize them—with your help.

So as you reflect on the fight ahead, join me this fall as we knock on doors, make phone calls and spread the word as the trusted messengers in our communities that AFT Public Employees members are reclaiming the promise of America.

Together, we will continue to ensure that high-quality public services improve the quality of our lives, build stronger communities, reduce the impact of inequality and grow our economy.

Public Employee Advocate, Fall 2014
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