By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Alabama has seen its share of weather disasters in recent years. From snow and ice storms to horrific tornados, we have all been impacted in one way or another. But these situations have also shown how we come together as a community and help one another in times of need.
Last week was no different. From the good Samaritans who opened their homes or businesses to strangers so they could have some place warm to sleep and eat, to the educators and first responders who went above and beyond the call of duty to take care of our children and those who were stranded on the roads, we made it through “icemageddon” and avoided most of the tragedies that could have happened.
Our educators and first responders, most of whom are state employees, sacrificed time with their own families so that they could take care of our most precious possessions: our children.
More than 11,000 children spent Tuesday night sleeping in their schools because the roads were not safe enough to take them home. Even Wednesday night there were still hundreds of children who had to sleep at school because the conditions had still not improved.
Through all of this, our teachers and support personnel stayed with them the whole time and made sure they were warm, safe and did not miss a meal. In many cases, this meant that these teachers were not able to be with their own children during this crisis.
The same can be said for our first responders, who worked day and night to help those who could not make it home and had been stranded on the roads.
These educators and first responders deserve to be recognized for their hard work, sacrifice and dedication. And it is good that the legislature chose to recognize them by passing resolutions thanking them for their service. But the truth is that a resolution is simply not enough.
We trust our educators with our most precious gift: our children. We trust our first responders with our safety – with our very lives. And we do so not just during crises like last week, but every day of the year. And yet, over the past three years our state legislature has cut their pay, reduced their benefits, slashed their funding and cut them out of the decision making process when it comes to writing the budgets and developing the policies that govern how they do their jobs.
So a few words on a piece of paper that 99 percent of them will never see is simly not enough!
Our educators and state employees deserve a 6 percent cost-of-living pay increase. The last time they received a COLA raise was in 2007. The two percent pay increase they received last year was not even enough to replace the 2.5 percent that was taken out in 2011 and 2012.
The fact is, our educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters and other state employees are make less money today than they did in 2010, but they are being asked to do much more and with fewer resources.
The Republican Supermajority in Montgomery has proposed a 2 percent raise for educators, and a possible 4 percent raise for state employees if they can find the money. So far they haven’t.
Our first responders and educators deserve better than what they have gotten over the past four years. Their actions during “icemageddon” have shown that. The resolutions passed last week were a nice token gesture. But if we truly want to thank our educators and first responders, let’s give them the pay raise they deserve and treat them like the professionals they are.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served as Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2010.