In observance of National Correctional Officers and Employees Week (May 6-12), we honor the tens of thousands of AFSCME members across the country who keep our communities safe by putting their lives on the line every day.
Yet, these officers continue to be used as scapegoats by corporate-backed politicians who undervalue the difficult and dangerous work they do. Governors in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Ohio have brazenly attempted to privatize prisons even as evidence mounts that this jeopardizes prison safety and doesn’t save money. Corrections officers know about the greater threat of injury or death within prisons operated by for-profit companies.
But our members are fighting back. In Florida, AFSCME scored a major victory when we overcame overwhelming odds to beat back a prison privatization bill. Working in partnership with members of AFSCME Council 79 and other labor unions, we defeated Senate Bill 2038, which would have led to the largest expansion of private prisons in American history.
We stalled a move by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and his allies to privatize a state prison. Working with a national coalition to fight prison privatization, our members flexed their muscles and raised a public outcry. We commend those courageous legislators, like Florida State Sen. Mike Fasano (a Republican), who oppose prison privatization because they value public safety more than the profit for private prison companies, which have engaged in pay-to-play politics.
During this week’s commemoration, we also pay homage to unsung heroes who continue to take risks and make ultimate sacrifices in the line of duty. One of our own, Sgt. Barbara Ester of Marianna, Ark., was simply doing her job when she was fatally stabbed to death early this year. Other members, like Michael Whitehead of Somers, Conn., saved a fellow officer’s life on the job.
“We will never forget the life-and-death struggles that define the vital service you provide,” Sec.-Treas. Lee Saunders said at last year’s Public Safety Congress. “Because we will never forget, we will continue the fight for the public safety officers on the job today.” Adds Pres. Gerald W. McEntee: “The courage and commitment shown by our members reflect what is best about our country.