by Rep. Kristine Howard (D-167)
I am a union member. My father was a union member. Three of my children are union members. I work, and my father worked, in a public sector union job, my father as a probation officer in Camden, New Jersey, and me as a child abuse investigator in Chester County. Growing up as the daughter of a public worker and going on to a career as a public worker myself, I have had the good fortune to become intimately acquainted with some of the hardest-working and most dedicated people in the workforce.
The public employees I have come to know often work in difficult circumstances and are exposed to situations that are hard not to think about when the work day ends. The same was true for my father. Probation workers, social workers, health and welfare workers and many others make up the workforce that holds the strands of the social safety net. And, these are not jobs that put people in higher tax brackets, pay holiday bonuses or offer stock options.
The people I work with go into homes, usually alone, and assume personal risks we are ill prepared to handle. Imagine sitting alone with an angry man or woman accused of some form of child abuse and asking them if they have a gun. Often, we interview unpredictable people who are suffering from some form of substance abuse. We see far more poverty and people suffering from untreated mental health conditions than most can imagine, even in the Main Line communities of Chester County.
My colleagues and I earn approximately $40,000 a year before taxes, work long days doing home visits into evening hours and return to our offices only to face reams of paper work. Our story is not terribly different from other public workers, many of whom are serving in jobs that others do not want to do. We work for local, state and county governments run by elected officials who see themselves as champions for taxpayers. There isn’t much incentive for them to raise wages, provide benefits or improve working conditions for employees paid by their voters’ tax dollars.
That is why unions and collective bargaining are critical. Public workers deserve jobs with dignity. Public employee unions provide a champion for their members and work, sometimes fight, to hold elected officials accountable for the dignity of their workforce. We live in a country with a constitution that enshrined a system of checks and balances. Unions provide checks and balances for workers.
To my thinking, Labor Day is Dignity Day for workers, something we all deserve more than once a year.