Stop attacking public service workers

Public sector workers in our cities and towns provide vital services, such as educating our children, clearing our roads, and keeping our communities safe. Yet in an unwarranted and wildly inaccurate attack, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere went out of his way in his April 15 column to disparage unions – public sector unions, in particular – while praising candidates who distance themselves from the labor movement.

Let’s remember who we are talking about. In the public sector, they are our firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, social workers, and teachers. In the private sector, they are machinists, marine draftsmen, security guards, and nurses. These workers and their unions are inextricably linked. A union is simply a group of workers that join together to negotiate a fair return on their work. To put down unions is to put down these very workers.

Choiniere strains credibility further by citing far-right, anti-worker organizations like the Yankee Institute and the American Enterprise Institute – both with an agenda that supports the ultra-wealthy at the expense of everyday working people – to suggest public workers are overpaid. Instead of using such obviously biased research, we should look at the best available nonpartisan studies. For instance, research from the Economic Policy Institute in 2016 found public sector workers receive compensation lower than or equal to comparable private sector workers, with the lower salaries partly or fully offset by better benefits.

And research from the nonpartisan arm of the Connecticut General Assembly, used by both Republicans and Democrats for objective research, found something similar – that for some jobs, state workers were paid more but for many other state workers, including lawyers, nurses, and physicians, they are paid considerably less.

More to the point, what’s wrong with supporting labor unions? They are the best way for working people to reach and remain in the middle class. But to Choiniere, unions are apparently the enemy and a special interest that should be ignored.

He apparently would like his readers to think that supporting working people will kill a candidate's chance at winning an election, but it hasn’t hurt U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, or U.S. Representative Joe Courtney from getting elected. And in the special election in Pennsylvania just last month, Conor Lamb was elected in a district that President Trump won by 20 points because he embraced the labor movement as integral to his campaign.

Finally, let’s set the record straight regarding Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. Contrary to what the column claimed, the mayor did indeed seek the endorsement of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. However, he refused to answer certain questions on our questionnaire, which is why Mayor Bronin was not invited to be interviewed by our members. In particular, he refused to say if he would support closing the carried interest loophole that hedge fund managers exploit, provide PTSD coverage for first responders, and refuse to shift teacher retirement costs onto municipalities.

(As an aside, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley sought our endorsement in 2014, as did two Republican candidates this year.)

Our union members — whether public or private sector — deserve to know how politicians will treat them and other workers in the state. We make no apologies for fighting to ensure all workers in Connecticut see rising wages, improved living standards, and an end to this out-of-balance economy that favors the wealthy few. We need solutions, not another a round of attacks on Connecticut’s working families.

Lori J. Pelletier, a member of the International Association of Machinists Local 700, is the president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, which represents over 200,000 union members in the private sector, public sector, and building trades.

 

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