Lately, it has been become fashionable for politicians to try to deflect blame for their failures onto hard-working public employees. Unjustified attacks on public employees’ character and very existence have become sadly common. While I have no intention to collectively bargain future contracts through the media, I do feel it is vital to set the record straight about recent history.
When Iowans hear bullying attacks against public employees, they should remember just who public employees are. Public employees are your neighbors. They include cops and correctional officers keeping you safe from violent criminals, Department of Transportation employees keeping you safe on the road by inspecting bridges and clearing snow, and workforce development staff helping laid-off Iowans acquire new skills and get new jobs.
Some public employees face uncommon hazards. Every day, correctional workers enter an environment where they can be spit on, have feces or urine thrown at them, or be injured or even killed in an attack by an inmate. Every day, DOT workers have a chance of being hit by a reckless driver. Every day, law enforcement officers perform an unpredictable and dangerous part of their duties — the traffic stop.
There has been much distortion concerning our most recent state contract. The fact is the contract contained modest wage changes, and state employee health care benefits have been attained through bargaining in exchange for lower wages.
We have sacrificed time and time again to do our part:
We agreed to a contract with no base wage increases in Fiscal Year 2010.
We later agreed to five days of mandatory unpaid leave in order to avoid layoffs.
We actively participated in a government efficiency process that is projected to save the state $1.7 billion over five years.
We suffered considerable layoffs over the past several years, just like everyone else.
We paid an increased percentage of employee wages into retirement plans.
I hope that before the next time politicians try to bully public employees through the media, they try to walk a day in our shoes. We look forward to a more respectful dialogue in the future.
Danny Homan is president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, which represents over 40,000 public employees in Iowa.