Teamsters Local 237

Good Government Is Ours to Shape

greg-floydFor many Americans, government is just an abstract idea. It’s something confusing they hear about on TV. It’s a faceless thing they send their taxes to every April 15. These people don’t have to think about government very much. They just go about their lives, complain about it sometimes and just hope that it works.

For us, it’s very real. The government is our employer. We work in vast public housing developments, hospital centers and in other essential services that the government provides. We know the work the government does and the importance of it. As public sector workers, we have a very special and close relationship with the government, for better or worse.

We see the good and we see the bad. Without the government, our states, cities and towns would be unable to run. They provide the services that keep us safe and keep our streets clean, to name a few. These services are performed by a skilled and dedicated civil service. For decades, the unions representing these workers fought for fair wages and benefits. As a result government jobs helped to create and sustain the middle class in this country. The benefits that these government jobs provide – although we must continue to fight for them – allow millions of people to have security in their careers and respect in retirement.

We also know, however, the problems that politics can cause in government. For example, each year the budget process turns into a battle where public employee unions fight with the government to keep service levels the same and workers in their jobs. Many issues are not settled until the last minute, which creates fear and uncertainty among many of us that depend on the outcome. More recently, Mayor Bloomberg attempted to change a long standing practice whereby the comptroller sets the city’s prevailing wage standard. That sort of power grab is all too common and doesn’t help anyone but those in control.

Government can also be confusing and inefficient. The greater good can get lost within a tangled web of government rules and procedures. For example, many recent news articles have accused the New York City Housing Authority of letting millions of dollars idle while their buildings fall deeper into disrepair. But rather than just leveling accusations, we must not lose sight of NYCHA’s mission – to keep its residents and workers safe.

That is why we must always be striving to push for the good in government and fight against the bad. We were able to stop the Mayor in his efforts to control the prevailing wage by challenging him in the courts. That will make sure that the process remains independent and fair. We are also working with NYHCA officials to help them confront the budget issues they are facing for many reasons. Perhaps they could handle many things better, but at the end of the day, we must work together. If we do not help NYCHA get more federal funding and use the money they already have, we will all be in trouble. Many at NYCHA are trying hard to make things right, but government by its nature has difficulty making big changes. We must do all we can in an effort to be discriminating as well as supportive.
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The fight to improve government and make it respond to the needs and values of the majority of the people it represents is a lifetime commitment. As we all know, even those who don’t work in government, this presidential race will be very important to the future of this country. The Democrats and the Republicans have two very different views about how government should work. If Mitt Romney and the Republicans win this race, they will eviscerate government services and funding. Millions will suffer and thousands of our jobs
will be eliminated. We must join together as we have so many times in the past and stand united against this dangerous vision for this country and its government. Obama and the Democrats understand what government is for, protecting the people, serving the public and creating prosperity for everyone.

Government can be a powerful and positive force in everyone’s life. We must continue to spread that message to everyone in this city, state and country. Once people understand that the government and its employees are determined to make the country better, then it will not be hard to push for the changes we want – good jobs with living wages; educational opportunities; comprehensive health care coverage; safe and affordable housing; secure pensions; dignity in retirement; and of course, liberty and justice for all.


Oral History Project

Hercules Cornish: Caretaker J Stores Man

Herclules CornishHercules Cornish went to work for the Housing Authority as a caretaker J in 1952 and retired 24 years later as a stores worker. He died the year following this interview, which was conducted in June 1999.

Originally I was from Harlem, but when I came out of the service in 1945 my wife had moved to the Bronx, so I moved there, too. I went to work for the New York City Housing Authority in 1952.

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