Here's the transcript of a speech written and delivered July 17 by Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell:
Politicizing public safety
by Cecil Bothwell, delivered at the We Are One Rally
, Asheville, NC July 17, 2011
Public safety is arguably the highest responsibility of government, and first responders like the women and men who work in the building behind me are the people who actually deliver that service. As one firefighter told me, "We don't get paid for what we do. We get paid for what we might have to do."
Asheville has a professional, highly trained and highly rated fire department, which not only makes us safer, it keeps our fire insurance rates low. That benefits everyone financially. Our firefighters are members of the Asheville Firefighters Association, which is the local affiliate of the International Association of Firefighters, a union that insists on excellent training and professionalism.
In order to maintain a high level of service, Asheville expands its fire department as the city grows and our next need is to add a station down near the airport. For a couple of years we've been in talks with the Airport Authority, negotiating a joint venture. They told us they need a new safety facility, too, and agreed that we can save millions of dollars by building one together. Not only that, but the Airport needs us, because their safety team is not qualified or certified to deal with structure fires—they deal with aircraft. They depend on the Asheville Fire Department in case of a fire in the terminals or offices or storage facilities. The thousands of tourists and travelers who pass through our terminal each year depend on Asheville first responders if a catastrophe occurs, and sharing a facility would make all of us who fly to and from Asheville safer. The rescue team would be on site.
This week, Airport Director Lou Bleiweis told Vice Mayor Brownie Newman and City Manager Gary Jackson that the deal was off the table. Over. Done. He told us that a joint venture at the airport will never happen on his watch. And he offered a reason. He said union employees will never work side by side with his safety team. You see, airport firefighters are not unionized.
I wondered why the Director had a sudden change of heart, and why he suddenly mentioned the firefighters' union—after all, that hasn't changed over the past two years. So I consulted with the best investigative reporter I've ever known, Brian Sarzynski, and he figured it out in about ten minutes.
On June 23, the folks in blue uniforms who check our IDs and scan us and scan our luggage and every once in a while have to pat us down when we enter an airport, unionized. The employees of the Transportation Security Administration, the people who sometimes aggravate us but who are the first line of defense in keeping air travel safe, held the largest union vote in the history of the nation, and 44,000 strong, they organized.
Oh. I see.
Republicans have been fighting unionization of the TSA for years. George Bush blocked it, claiming it would create a security risk. But the Obama administration has let the workers organize. And suddenly, two weeks later, our Airport Director has his shorts in a bunch over union workers sharing a fire station with his lower paid, non-union staffers. I think you can connect the dots. I'm afraid he hasn't been paying attention to what's happening in Madison, Wisconsin, and in Ohio, and Michigan, and a dozen other places and in hundreds of airports across the country. The workers of America are tired of being pushed around by corporate criminals. We are on the move!
Our Airport Director is willing to risk our safety, the safety of the thousands of tourists and business travelers who come to Asheville, because he is politically opposed to unionization. And he's willing to force Asheville tax payers to spend up to $4 or $5 million we don't need to spend in order to further his political agenda, which is the Republican political agenda. Millions of dollars, and putting people's lives at risk, because he is afraid his work force will see that union workers get higher pay, have better benefits and are better trained for the work that ensures we are safe in the event of a fire or a building collapse or an explosion at our airport.
Make no mistake. Unions are on the move. American workers are beginning to see through the campaign of vilification that has gone on since Ronald Reagan decided to risk all of our lives by crushing the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981. Unions are good for workers, they are good for business and they are good for America. Don't ever let anyone tell you different!