As we gather with loved ones to celebrate the holidays, there is a somberness not usually associated with this joyous season. The weight of two recent tragedies – the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy and the senseless slaughter of innocent children in Newtown, Connecticut – have caused us to all feel some degree of sadness, unease and anxiety. But these horrific events have also called attention to the essential role of public workers in our society. Contrary to right–wing rhetoric, it has never been more obvious that a safe, well functioning democracy can’t be sustained without strong and responsive government. Without it, no member of our society, including the wealthiest one percent, can be safe.
Both Hurricane Sandy and the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School must serve as a wake-up call to our elected officials.
We are justly proud of all that we did to prepare New York for Sandy and the critical role 237 members have played in the recovery. Each and every day, we do our best to keep our schools, hospitals and other institutions safe. Despite increasing difficulties, public workers rise to every challenge. It’s up to government leaders to do everything possible to diminish the likelihood that children will again be murdered in their classrooms or that the most vulnerable among us will be left to fend for themselves after disaster strikes.
The epidemic of gun violence is unacceptable and must be confronted. I have long advocated for meaningful state and federal gun reform. Because of Local 237’s efforts to provide alternatives to at-risk youth and to get dangerous guns off the streets, I was recently honored by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Center to Prevent Youth Violence.
Keeping our communities, especially our children, safe requires effective gun control laws and enforcement. Local 237 members experience the consequences of lax gun regulation daily. Our special officers have averted innumerable tragedies in our schools, colleges and public hospitals. Members working at NYCHA are threatened by rising crime rates and shootings in our city’s public housing projects.
The recent murders of 20 Connecticut school children is heartbreaking, but we should keep in mind that almost 100,000 Americans are shooting victims every year and that more than one million people have been killed by firearms since 1968.
Despite years of wellfunded opposition, there have been some recent victories in the struggle for reasonable gun control. I applaud two recent Federal Appeals Court decisions that will allow New York to raise the standards for granting concealed weapon permits, and another that allows governments to prohibit gun dealers from selling to minors. But we need to go further. A ban on semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines, criminal background checks and mandatory licensing for gun owners must all be enacted. In addition to these laws, we must ensure, through a greater allocation of resources, that our schools, as well as our public hospitals and social service agencies, are able to provide appropriate counseling and mental health services to those that need them.
Good public policy cannot prevent an imminent natural disaster such as a hurricane, but can limit death, destruction and suffering. We must improve, upgrade and modernize our infrastructure, and put in place detailed plans and protocols ahead of future storms and similar calamities.
Frontline public workers are uniquely positioned to advise their agencies and elected officials on how to function more effectively — both day-to-day and in times of crisis. I encourage every Local 237 member to participate in the ongoing discussions of how our city can better prepare for the next storm. Your experience and insights are sorely needed to formulate policies that will minimize the impact of the next natural disaster.
That is the guiding principle of the Local 237/ NYCHA Task Force. Our union is soon releasing the first set of practical solutions for improving New York City public housing for residents and workers. We took the recommendations of workers, tenants, community organizations and housing experts and have submitted them to NYCHA management. These recommendations will also be shared with elected officials and the media. Included in the report are specific suggestions concerning disaster preparations.
We must act to prevent the catastrophes of 2012 from reoccurring. The most positive result of the needless pain is the momentum created for real and lasting change. But the window of opportunity is short. It is our duty as public workers, and as citizens, to push for policies and procedures that benefit all New Yorkers.
I wish you all the joys and comforts of the holidays. We begin the New Year with a clear course of action to guide us in creating a better future.