May 13, 2020

Public sector workers continue to be the backbone of our state, city

— Bob Reiter, president, Chicago Federation of Labor

Published by Chicago Tribune | May 11, 2020

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, some have questioned what public sector workers are doing to aid our communities.

Here in the greatest working-class city in America, public sector workers are busy doing the work we’ve always depended on and too often take for granted: educating and caring for our children. Keeping our streets safe. Looking after the sick, the elderly, veterans and those on the margins. Picking up trash, assuring clean drinking water and treating our wastewater. Keeping our trains and buses moving, and making sure the roads, bridges and rails that carry us are well-maintained. And many other important assignments too long to list.

Since the crisis began, most public employees have the same responsibilities, but now they’re being called to fulfill them under extremely difficult conditions.

Those who handle unemployment claims are meeting the challenge of an exponentially larger workload to make sure people have this urgently needed financial lifeline. Human services caseworkers are responding to the unprecedented demand for food, housing, medical and mental health assistance. Public school teachers and staff are still educating our children, albeit remotely. All of them and countless other public servants are working to ensure that throughout the darkness of this pandemic and when our state finally emerges, the public services that Illinois residents rely on are always there.

Just like other essential front-line workers, the many public employees whose work cannot be done remotely are putting their own health at risk. They’re at work in the county hospital and correctional systems; they’re caring for people with disabilities in residential settings; they’re in the field protecting children from abuse and neglect; they’re responding to emergencies. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice after being exposed to the deadly virus as they carried on serving, and often helping to save, our communities.

When you look at the faces of those public servants who are putting themselves at risk daily, you see many come from communities of color. Their work is not just critical for the public at large; they are vital to supporting their own families and communities.

Public service workers deserve our thanks for their work during this crisis, and Congress must provide the funding that state and local governments require to keep these women and men on the job for all of us. Our city, our state and our country will be far the better for it.

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