Collective Bargaining Is a Safety Issue

February 28, 2011 -- Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel

As for so many Wisconsin households, the proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for public employees would have a direct and immediate negative impact on mine. For ten years my partner has worked for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, where she is a member of AFSCME Local 366. People may feel that they have some understanding of the risks and challenges of being a teacher, a police officer, even a county benefits specialist. They probably don't know much about the risks of many of the jobs done by state, county and local workers who would be affected by this proposed change.

My partner's job is challenging on a number of levels, but more to the point: it's very dangerous. It involves near daily contact with the sewer system, with all of the health risks that entails. It frequently requires her to go down in the sewers, which not only means serious physical exertion but also exposure to noxious and poisonous gasses. It also requires her to stand out in traffic, with only a few orange cones to divert cars, while her co-workers take their turn getting water readings or going down to repair or retrieve equipment. To make it more real - it is a condition of her employment that she receive a hepatitis vaccine and be tested on confined entry & rescue skills annually. It's easy to see why it is so important to have collective bargaining in this kind of setting. Collective bargaining provides a forum for the workers - who are the only people who truly understand the risks they face and the importance of a shared commitment to safety - to make sure their needs and concerns are heard by management.

Throughout these protests, we have stood shoulder to shoulder with workers who take daily risks to ensure public safety and good public services. It's important for the public to know that public service can be dangerous and that collective bargaining helps create a safer environment for them.