Standing with Our First Responders

Filed in Safety, Workplace Rights by on May 5, 2011 0 Comments

This week, we remember 9/11 as a wake-up call to do more to protect our homeland. We can never bring back the 3,000 Americans who lost their lives that day. But after a 10-year manhunt, we can take solace in knowing that justice was finally done on Sunday, and the man responsible will now answer to a higher power for his crimes.

In the Book of Romans, we are taught, “Be not overcome of evil … but overcome evil with good.” I recall this passage, because in America’s darkest hour, our first responders were our ray of light. They didn’t blink in the face of danger. They risked everything to save their fellow citizens.

I was a freshman Congresswoman on 9/11. I had served in the House for less than nine months, but I’ll never forget how the Capitol police helped us feel safe.

As lawmakers, we were evacuated from the Capitol, but we couldn’t get home. The streets were backed up. The Metro was closed down. The Capitol police led us out to a lawn a couple of blocks from the Capitol and stood watch over us until it was safe to change locations.

Two days later, I remember touring the crash site at the Pentagon and the smell of burnt metal. That stays with you. Walking alongside the debris, I thought about the courage of the firefighters who ran into that building to stop the flames.

As a public official, the sacrifices of our first responders are never far from my thoughts. In several states, governors have said the financial crisis means they can no longer afford to negotiate with public workers over wages, benefits and working conditions. It’s one thing to ask workers to make concessions to help close budget holes, but it’s another to balance budgets on the backs of those who risk their lives to keep their communities safe.

In Ohio, police and firefighters have been stripped of important collective bargaining rights, including the right to negotiate the number of officers and firefighters on duty at a given time.

I’m worried about this precedent.  First responders need a voice at the table. We must never forget that they made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11. As we grapple with our fiscal challenges, we must remember that our first responders were there for us when we needed them the most.

Today, we stand with them as they fight for the right to do their jobs well, provide for their families and keep this country safe.

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