Remembering Newtown

AFSCME members join the nation in honoring the 20 children and six adult educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School slain in Newtown, CT on Dec. 14, 2012.

Many of the police officers, emergency dispatchers and other public service workers who responded that day are members of AFSCME. Our members rushed toward danger, helped children, parents and townspeople and, even as the dealt with their own grief and trauma, aided the recovery effort in the days and weeks that followed.

In the moments immediately following the first call of “shots fired,” the Newtown Police Department reacted with professionalism and heroism. All 44 officers and employees are members of the Newtown Police Union Local 3153 (Connecticut Council of Police/AFSCME Council 15). Approximately 14 of them went directly to the school, putting themselves into harm’s way without hesitation.

In recognition of their actions responding to the massacre, the Newtown local this October received the 2013 Law Enforcement Award at the AFSCME Public Safety Congress.

Also responding were public service workers from many other departments and agencies. They included workers represented by AFSCME Council 4. Among them were the Newtown school nurses of Local 1302-215 who comforted and protected the children and provided medical assistance.

The Newtown police dispatchers of AFSCME Local 1303-136 and the state police dispatchers of AFSCME Local 562 also acted with urgency and professionalism. Members of the State Social and Human Service Professional Employees AFSCME Local 2663 provided on-site counseling to those who needed it. Public works employees of Local 1303-200 also played important roles in the response effort in the grief-stricken days and weeks that followed the massacre.

Outpourings of support flooded in from every corner of America. More than 6,000 AFSCME members nationwide signed an online sympathy card for their Newtown brothers and sisters and the Newtown community.

Expressions of sympathy gave way to direct action as members of AFSCME Councils 4 and 15 – working through a coalition of unions – pressed for changes in the law to ensure that public service workers and volunteers could get additional mental health support if they needed it. In March, the state Legislature passed a bill creating a charitable fund to cover medical costs for both physical and emotional impairment due to the shooting.

In addition, first responders employed by the state – and other state employees who were significantly involved with the direct response to the shooting – will be credited with 40 hours of comp time under an agreement reached this month between the state, Council 4 and other unions representing state employees. The agreement, which is intended to recognize the extraordinary nature of the tragedy, has been submitted to the General Assembly for final approval.

AFSCME is still hoping Newtown officials will provide similar coverage to their employees in recognition of the extraordinary nature of the tragedy.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre is a tragedy that should never happen again. Our children and educators deserve safe school environments. But when tragedy does occur, public service workers like those in Newtown will do their jobs with professionalism and heroism.

Governor Malloy called for houses of worship to ring their bells 26 times on Dec. 14, once for every victim lost that day. Wherever you are, take a moment to remember those victims, their families, and also those who came to help in any way that they could.

Cross-posted from the AFSCME Blog.