Patriotism and Profiteering.
There is a Difference.

By Bill Lucy
CBTU President

When terrorists attacked our country on September 11, hundreds of firefighters and police officers lost their lives. EMTs, paramedics and other workers were also killed. All of them rushed to the scene hoping to save lives.

Union members served on the frontlines of the tragedy - as 911 emergency operators, aviation employees, emergency-preparedness workers, heavy eqiuipment operators and iron workers called to clean up the colossal mess. But whether they were sifting through the rubble looking for victims or performing another vital task, union members in New York, Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C. area helped to mend America while teaching a vivid lesson on the valuable role of the work they do, not just on tragic days, but every day.

Since the disaster, the nation has learned to appreciate the work of tens of thousands of workers - particularly public service workers - who are often taken for granted. Across the country, more and more Americans are donning caps and shirts with the logos "FDNY" and "NYPD," finally discarding the wrongheaded stereotypes of donut-eating, coffee-swilling cops and fire"men" whiling away the day at the station house. These reliable public servants and other men and women in uniform - are getting the respect and credit they deserve.

All of that begs some obvious questions. What if the firefighters, police officers and EMTs and other uniformed employees who rushed to the disaster sites on September 11 were not dedicated, loyal Americans who held their jobs because they loved the work and cherished the idea of contributing to America? What if they were all employees of private companies?

Would they have been as likely to rush up the stairs through a sea of people, fire, smoke and debris? If these workers had held the privateers' calling card of low pay and poor benefits, instead of pride and dedication, would they have been as willing to risk their lives to save others? I sincerely doubt it. Just look at the example set by Argenbright Security, one of the aviation industry's biggest privateers.

Before September 11, the company was fined $1.5 million and put on a three-year probation for putting untrained employees to work in Philadelphia's airport. On September 11, the company screened passengers - including the eventual murderous hijackers - traveling on two of the four downed airplanes. After September 11, the company allowed a passenger through O'Hare International Airport security with a bag of weapons. With airlines contracting out their security needs - to the lowest bidder - it's certainly no mystery how these breaches occurred.

Fortunately, the airline-security picture brightened in November when Congress voted to make screeners federal employees. Still, the low pay, high turnover and poor service that characterize privateers will continue to leave their mark on other industries whose performance has a heavy public impact.

In private prisons, inmate-on-staff assaults are 50 percent higher than in state-run facilities, while inmate-on-inmate assaults are two-thirds more common. I must admit that if I worked for a private prison, for near minimum wages and little training, the likelihood of my rushing to break up fighting inmates would be pretty slim.

Unfortunately, the events of September 11 have given privateers greater appeal. As the nation's economy and state budgets continue to reel from the disaster's economic effects, government officials are bound to try and cut corners by turning to privateers.

And as public service workers well know, quality is the first element that goes when privateers take over. And the public will pay the price. From education and social services to corrections and scores of other occupations, private companies and corporations simply don't have the dedication and the commitment to service. Their commitment is to profit.

America learned many lessons on September 11. As men and women don their "FDNY" and "NYPD" paraphernalia, I hope they will remember that the commitment that sent firefighters and police officers and EMTs toward disaster on September 11 is the same commitment that clears our highways of snow, protects our children and keeps our communities - and our nation - safe, strong and healthy.

May the hundreds of lost and missing firefighters and police officers, EMTs and paramedics, serve as a constant reminder to America of the important difference between doing a job and answering a calling.