Raising our collective voice
I don’t have to tell you about the attacks that are ricocheting across the country. I don’t have to tell you because in so many ways public employees are on the frontlines of these attacks.
In Alaska, 10,000 state employees received layoff notices in June. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback has been playing games with the state budget while gutting bargaining rights for state employees. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie and the state Supreme Court are making decisions that compromise the retirement security of those who have worked hard—for others—to earn it, while the governor continues to balance his budget on the backs of middle-class families.
And on the national level, the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that seeks to silence public workers by eliminating fair share, a long-standing practice backed up by 40 years of legal precedent.
These attacks are all aimed at one thing—eviscerating unions in order to preserve the status quo, a rigged, trickle-down economic system. The Koch brothers, the hedge funders, the Scott Walkers and the backers of the Friedrichs case: They all know that unions get in their way, because unions give working people power at the bargaining table and the ballot box. And unions advance the common good.
Which is why we are fighting back—to reclaim the promise of America. In our workplaces, in our communities, in the statehouses and on Capitol Hill, we are raising our voices. Our collective voice is power—the power to serve our communities and lead them toward a better future.
As we discussed at the AFT Public Employees national conference in May, to seize that power, we must organize. We must work with community. And we must engage our members.
The AFT is embarking on its 100th anniversary, which will be celebrated in 2016. We have set an ambitious goal to have 1.6 million conversations this year—one with every member of our union to engage, to empower, to make all our voices heard and to have each other’s backs. We know that through the union, the engagement of one becomes the power of many—and it is with that power that we will win.
We build this power by growing our unions at the local, state and national levels. We build power by reaching out to our members and talking about the challenges we face, the aspirations we have. We build power by finding ways for all our members to join together to fight those obstacles, to reach those aspirations and to reclaim the promise of America.
The promise of America means you can send your children to a great neighborhood public school and give them the advantage of a college education without incurring crippling debt. It means that when you become ill, you’ll get good healthcare, and you’ll be treated fairly at work, getting a real raise every once in a while. It means you won’t have to choose between your job and taking care of a sick child or, increasingly, a sick parent. It means a lifetime of work will culminate in a retirement with dignity.
The promise of America also means our tax dollars are invested in our communities and the resources are used responsibly; it means that our communities get first-rate public services to keep them safe, healthy and vibrant. Services provided by public employees—social workers, probation officers, economists, accountants, nurses and infectious control specialists—not privatized.
If we raise and combine our voices, we can reclaim the promise of America—for our kids, for our families, for our communities.