BOSTON - Thousands of state and local government employees rocked the 'Cradle of Freedom' here when they staged a peaceful takeover on June 30 of the historic Boston Common. They came from the 39th Convention of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to demand an end to the GOP filibuster on the jobs bill and legislation to help the unemployed and states grappling with unprecedented budget shortfalls.
At America's first public park, the site where Paul Revere, George Washington, anti-slavery activists, the Rev. Martin Luther King, and the nation's anti-war leaders addressed rallies in the past, AFSCME's leaders warned Scott Brown, the Republican senator from Massachusetts, that his days are numbered if he does not stop filibustering the jobs bill.
"Scotty Brown," the union's president, Gerald McEntee, called out derisively. "You will not get away with playing partisan politics with jobs. The voice of the people is more powerful than the talk coming from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party." The crowd cheered and whistled its approval.
As the government employees poured into the Boston Common Wednesday the AFL-CIO led union rallies at the offices of 17 Republican senators. Union members were out in force at the offices of GOP senators in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. The demands were the same: Pass the jobs bill, extend unemployment benefits and preserve public services in the states.
While the unions were mobilizing members from one end of the country to the other, many of the nation's leading governors held a press conference in Washington, also on Wednesday, to highlight the need for money to keep services in states from going under. Governors participating included Granholm of Mich., Gregoire of Wa., Patterson of N.Y., O'Malley of Md., Rendell of Pa., Quinn of Il., Ritter of Co., Scwarzenegger of Calif., and Rell of Conn.
Budget cuts in Massachusetts, AFSCME members at the Boston rally said, mean loss of jobs for workers at libraries, facilities for the developmentally disabled and at state and community colleges.
Alicia Cadillac, president of AFSCME Local 1526, which represents workers at Boston libraries, described how the city plans to cut 25 percent of the workforce. To make matters worse, she said, "management is trying to bust our union altogether." Cadillac is the only trainer on staff for 400 workers and the city recently decided to eliminate her position. "I must be doing something right if they are going out of their way to get rid of the president of the union local," she said.
She said her union is committed to fighting "corporate downsizing in government, which in this case will destroy a library system that is a world class institution."
Mike Thomas is the leader of Massachusetts human service workers in AFSCME's Council 93. He blasted the decision by the state to close four of its six residential facilities for the developmentally disabled. The move has been opposed by families of those served because the closings will mean permanent separation of the consumers involved from their long-time care givers. The governor says the state clients can be served just as well in community group homes.
"We don't oppose community care and we have unionized facilities that operate in the communities," Thomas explained. "What they want to do," however, "is move people into group homes where there are very low paid workers and high turnover which really decreases the quality of care. The CEOs of some of these private agencies that run the group homes make as much as $500,000 a year. State funds should go into providing services and paying workers who provide that service a fair wage - not into making a few people very rich."
Photo: © AFSCME.org