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Community Voices: Public service unions and the ‘Commons’

Bruce T. Boccardy

There is a favorable awakening of Americans in the polls toward issues of public service union employees. This dovetails with the emerging groups of working people who are participating in the multifarious “Occupy” social conferences across the nation.

We are witnessing private union and non-union employees aligning with public service union members in many of the “occupations.”

Certainly, private sector employees have suffered crippling layoffs, stagnant wages, and diminished work hours. Public service union members are now also experiencing the same economic deprivations.

We know by the data that the notion of lavish public service wages and salaries is a laughable myth. Regardless, public service union health care benefits and retirement programs have been dramatically reduced.

Public service union contracts across the Commonwealth are replete with zero cost of living increases, as well as severe layoffs and furloughs.  

When local and municipal services are cut due to “austerity” measures, residents are often puzzled and then outraged.

When city or town offices are closed they should be outraged. When libraries and community centers are closed they should be outraged.

When bridges, roads and buildings are decrepit or crumbling they should be outraged. When their trash is not collected they should be outraged.

When nursing homes and veteran’s homes or elder care services are cut back or eliminated they should be outraged. When public hospital emergency rooms and ambulance services hours are reduced they should be outraged.

When schools close and students are jammed into inadequate space with deficient learning materials they should be outraged.

When school teachers and assistants are reduced, jeopardizing high quality educational opportunities for their children, they should be outraged.

When public school bus service declines and school crossing guards cannot protect their children they should be outraged.

When tuitions increase beyond the reach of most working people they should be outraged.

When fire departments and police departments are cut, threatening public safety, they should be outraged.

When public transportation service is reduced or fares are raised exorbitantly they should be outraged.

When eating establishments fail to meet sanitary or food quality standards they should be outraged.

When tap water arrives at their homes with strange hues or bacteria they should be outraged.

When their rivers become dumping grounds for municipal, industrial, commercial and medical waste, they should be outraged.

When parks and recreation areas are hazardous to the public and become trash heaps, they should be outraged. When sewers become clogged and spill over into their streets and yards, they should be outraged.

Public service union services directly impact the quality of life in our communities. Our public service union members represent the historical concept of the “commons.”

The “commons” are our social organizations that provide services and protect elements of the environment that are owned and enjoyed communally by all citizens.

Misplaced resentment and hostility against public service union employees threatens the basic services of towns and cities that often folks may take for granted. That should outrage all of us. 

Mr. Boccardy is the president of Local 888, of the Service Employees International Union, representing close to ten thousand municipal and state public employees throughout Massachusetts.