AFT's Go Public campaign
Go Public! Speaking out for Public Employees
AFT's Go Public Campaign (column by Steve Porter, Director, AFT Public Employees )
Attacks on collective bargaining and civil service systems, abusive contracting practices, budget cuts, tax cuts and tax limitation measures this past year together have created the most serious challenges to public services in a generation.
In response to this unprecedented threat, the AFT Public Employees program and policy council has called for a special effort at all levels of the union to promote quality public services and to expose the pitfalls of contracting out.
This effort, called the Go Public! Campaign, is modeled on a similar campaign by the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) to win passage of "clean contracting" legislation now pending in the New York Legislature.
As the political atmosphere for public employees gets increasingly hostile, the need for this campaign is apparent. In January 2005, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels rescinded collective bargaining rights for state employees, tossing away contracts that were in place for 15 years.
In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt took the same misguided action. Across the country, where public employees have gained bargaining rights and have negotiated contracts, everyone benefits from a fair and workable mechanism that results in a binding agreement for all parties. With the stroke of a pen by each governor, however, taxpayers and state employees in Indiana and Missouri lost the benefits of this process.
Additionally, tax cuts and tax limitation measures have put a serious strain on the capacity of government agencies charged with providing vital services. Colorado's adoption in 1992 of the so-called taxpayers' bill of rights (TABOR), which is now being touted by some as a model for other states, illustrates the terrible consequences of depleting a state treasury.
Colorado now has among the nation's poorest public services. This, coupled with efforts in the state to eliminate the civil service system to allow for more political appointees, demonstrates an appalling disregard for government accountability and its role in serving the public.
Meanwhile, public employees are often put in the frustrating position of training a contractor workforce or "shadow government" that becomes more costly and less accountable than the public service they replace. In state after state, we witness abuses by contractors seeking government contracts or protecting lucrative deals.
Sometimes that abuse goes to the highest levels of government: In March 2005, former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland received a prison sentence after pleading guilty to corruption charges, acknowledging that he accepted more than $100,000 in lavish trips and other luxuries from state contractors.
Our union, along with other advocates for quality public services, must address these abuses and seek support for measures that strengthen public services and build our communities.
Inevitably, this is a political process that requires our involvement in supporting candidates who understand the necessity of investing in public services and are committed to making that investment. We can do this by raising COPE funds and helping elect politicians who support public employees and the services they provide.
We can also Go Public! in our advocacy. We can highlight the exemplary work done every day by public employees, a strategy employed by our Montana affiliate, the MEA-MFT, in its nationally recognized "Work that Matters" program.
We can introduce and promote legislation for "clean contracting" and bring greater accountability to any contracting decision. We can fight lobbying abuses by contractors and highlight the accountability and value of public services when compared to for-profit privatizers. Where we have collective bargaining rights, we can negotiate language that promotes quality services and protects employee rights.
As we move forward with this Go Public! effort, we will share ideas and programs that address these issues. We will highlight successful campaign strategies and tactics and make materials available to AFT Public Employee leaders and activists.
We will set up networks to involve more people in the effort and provide tools that make the job easier. Together, we can address these threats and provide the advocacy necessary for positive action and real change.
--Steve Porter, Director, AFT Public Employees