WNYLaborToday.com Editor’s Note: Bart Andersen, of Anoka, Minnesota, is a former Minnesota Department of Transportation Bridge Inspector and current Field Representative for American Federation of County, State & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 5, a Union of 2,500 State Transportation Workers. Anderson’s Following Labor Perspective was Published by The Duluth News Tribune and can be Directly Accessed at: www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/3885998-union-leaders-view-workplace-rights-crumble-roads-and-bridges-could-follow-suit
On August 1st, 2007, the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River. The bridge had been a critical piece in the State’s infrastructure since 1964, carrying more than 100,000 vehicles daily. Thirteen people were killed and 145 injured when it went down.
It’s a day that’s burned into the memories of Minnesotans.
For me, it was the beginning of a crusade.
I was a Bridge Inspector for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. It was our job to prevent exactly this kind of tragedy. The Public Service Workers on the front lines are a powerful voice for Public Safety. We know better than anyone what risks our communities face and what changes need to be made.
Unfortunately, our voices are sometimes silenced.
For years, Inspectors like me had been sounding the alarm about the I-35W Bridge, which was corroded and crumbling under the burden of increased traffic. Year after year we filed reports urging immediate repairs, but those reports were ignored. We were told there just wasn’t room in the budget for bridge repairs or to maintain what we considered Safe Staffing Levels at the Department of Transportation.
Our infrastructure was aging rapidly, and it wasn’t a matter of if, but when, tragedy would strike.
In the aftermath of that terrible August day, Public Service Workers from across Minnesota pulled together like never before to pick up the pieces.
I am proud to say my fellow Union Members from AFSCME Council 5, representing Minnesota’s State and Local Employees, were the first on the scene and the last to leave.
We were the Emergency Dispatchers and Medics who tended to victims.
We redirected traffic around the collapse.
We worked to clean up the site, recover vehicles and provide support to survivors.
In the months after the collapse, I set to work to raise awareness about our National Infrastructure crisis.
I crossed the State talking to citizens and lawmakers about the dangerous state of our bridges.
I even traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress.
Our Union has made it a mission to make sure Public Service Employees on the front line have a voice and that our State secure funding for a safe highway system and a truly functional Department of Transportation in Minnesota.
Eight years later, AFSCME Members are still speaking out to keep Minnesota’s roads, bridges and travelers safe.
There’s still a long way to go, but since 2007 we’ve steadily been improving the condition of bridges in our State.
I didn’t get into the Public Sector for the paycheck.
I did it because I wanted to serve my community.
But too often we’re left to fight for our communities alone, unheard by the politicians and officials who hold the purse strings.
If it wasn’t for my Union, I might still be wondering if my inspection reports would be ignored until it was too late.
With the strong backing of fellow AFSCME Members, I can speak up, make a difference and do my job to the best of my abilities.
Unfortunately, the right to form a Union is under attack all across our Nation.
The Supreme Court is preparing to hear a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association that could make it harder for Working People to speak up together to better serve our communities.
The corporate backers behind the lawsuit don’t care that we’re raising our voices to make us all safer.
This isn’t just a Minnesota problem.
Every State and City in this Country must face the fact our infrastructure is crumbling.
Citizens and Public Service Workers must stand together to force our lawmakers to act.
Thirteen people lost their lives in the Twin Cities because no one was listening.
We can’t afford to have the Supreme Court silence our voices for good.