"9/11 Memorial Stained Glass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Midtown NYC" by By NYCUrbanScape Peter Cigliano on flickr

"9/11 Memorial Stained Glass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Midtown NYC" by By NYCUrbanScape Peter Cigliano on flickr

A decade has passed since the attacks that brought horrific destruction and death to the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fields outside Shanksville, Pa.  Those acts of terrorism ripped apart steel and concrete and broke our hearts. The families that lost loved ones may never be whole again.

Father Mychal F. Judge, a New York Fire Department chaplain and member of AFSCME Local 299 (District Council 37), was among the first to arrive at the scene in New York.  Father Judge did not hesitate when he heard of the attacks.  He put on his collar and went to be of help.  He died giving the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Church to a mortally wounded firefighter.  He is known today as “the Saint of 9/11.”

Father Judge was not alone.  Paramedics Carlos Lillo and Ricardo Quinn, both AFSCME DC 37 members, braved the horrors in Lower Manhattan to support rescue efforts. They too gave their lives, as did Chet Louie, an AFSCME member who worked a second job at the World Trade Center, and five members of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000 – Yvette Anderson, Florence Cohen, Harry Goody, Marian Hrycak and Dorothy Temple – who worked for the state Department of Taxation and Finance in the South Tower.

Ten years later, one is still moved by the memory of the many public employees who put their lives in danger.  Police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders rushed into the twin towers to rescue the injured. Emergency personnel created caravans to help dig through the rubble. Engineers worked up to 36-hour shifts trying to find survivors. Sanitation workers, child care providers and hundreds of other public employees delivered lunches, supplies and volunteered to do whatever was necessary.  Similar acts of courage and service were seen at each of the attack sites.

As the nation pauses to reflect and remember the events of September 11, 2001, please take the time to view this video. It features public service workers who were there that day.  We take enormous pride in the contributions made by the many AFSCME members who responded to the tragedy, not only in New York, but also in Pennsylvania and on the banks of the Potomac River.  We are proud of the workers from throughout the House of Labor: police, firefighters, hospital staff, transit workers and many, many others. These were everyday people.  Their commitment to their communities and to other Americans made them heroes on that fateful day.

Thousands of rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center have suffered serious medical problems, including lung infections, respiratory problems and cancer, as a result of the air they breathed while working at and around Ground Zero.  Many of these workers, including paramedic Deborah Reeve, a member of DC 37 who searched for survivors in the ruins, have died from conditions that developed as a result of their brave service.

The courage and commitment of these public service workers reflect what is best in our country.  At a time of crisis, people pulled together.  We saw what was possible when everyone in America stood shoulder to shoulder.  We saw what could be achieved when we shared a commitment to support our communities and our country.  That is a standard that we should see more often.  It is a standard that should be guiding us now.

Gerald McEntee

Gerald McEntee

Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the most aggressive and politically active organizing unions in the AFL-CIO. Since 2006, 145,000 women and men have changed their lives by forming a union with AFSCME. McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term.

As a Vice President of the AFL-CIO and chair of the Political Education Committee, McEntee is a key leader of the labor movement and its political efforts. Under McEntee’s leadership, the federation created its highly successful and much imitated voter education and mobilization program, which increased the number of union household voters to a record 26 percent of the electorate in 2006.

McEntee has long been a leader in the fight to reform the nation’s health care system. He chairs the AFL-CIO’s Health Care Committee and is a co-chair of Health Care for America NOW!, a national grassroots coalition that has launched a $40 million campaign to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

McEntee is a co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, the preeminent voice for working Americans on the economy. He led the successful fight to stop President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, was an outspoken proponent for increasing the federal minimum wage, and is one of the nation’s leading advocates for America’s vital public services.

For his efforts to improve the lives of working families, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presented McEntee with its prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Award in 2004.

Before assuming the presidency of AFSCME, McEntee began his distinguished career as a labor leader in Pennsylvania in 1958. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 Pennsylvania public service employees, which at that time was the largest union mobilization in history. He was elected Executive Director at the founding convention of AFSCME Council 13 in Pennsylvania in 1973 and an International Vice President of AFSCME in 1974.

McEntee holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, McEntee and his wife Barbara live in Washington, DC.