Not only do public-sector jobs mean economic security for black families; they are also jobs that are vitally important to communities across this nation. Whether they are teachers, bus drivers, sanitation workers, snowplow operators, emergency medical technicians, nurses or librarians, public employees perform jobs that towns and cities of every size and description depend on. Their work strengthens neighborhoods and supports basic American values like looking out for one another, preparing our children for the future and ensuring that there is a safety net for the most vulnerable members of our country.
But if you believe the radical governors and legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and other states, many of these jobs are unnecessary, and the workers who provide them are “coddled” because they have the right to a voice on the job. Since January 2009, state and local governments have laid off 429,000 workers, and these layoffs have already had dire effects on families across the country.
And yet instead of joining with us to find solutions and protect the rights of workers, these governors are inflicting more pain. Their only interest is in attacking our jobs, crippling our unions and dismantling public services. At a time when we should be pulling together, their tactics and rhetoric are ripping us apart.
Because so many black families have built careers in state and local government, what these corporate-backed politicians are also doing is undercutting the economic security of black families. Ask if this is their intention, and of course they will deny that it is. But even the best of intentions (and their intentions are far from the “best”) can have unintended consequences. And there is no denying that the path they’ve chosen will have dire consequences for many black families.
That’s one of the many reasons African Americans, whether public employees or not, whether union members or not, are standing with the workers who are fighting back. If 21 percent of black workers are public-sector employees, that means that one out of every five black workers is employed by a state or local government. Our financial well-being and the economic security of the neighborhoods we live in are at stake. It is up to all of us to fight for our future.
Lee Saunders is secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.