Police, fire unions deserve to be treated differently

February 28, 2011

In the editorial "What's the matter with Wisconsin?" (Feb. 21) The Baltimore Sun agrees with President Obama's assertion that the events unfolding in Wisconsin are nothing other than an "assault on unions." This is an accurate synopsis of a sad state of affairs unfolding nationwide. Workers are being vilified for speaking up for what they had been promised by cities and states.

The difference in what is taking place in Wisconsin and what we see happening here at home, as The Sun pointed out in the same editorial, is that in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has exempted his public safety employees from the harsh legislation. It appears that even Governor Walker places priority on supporting his police and firefighters who risk their lives daily for the citizens of his state. What we must keep in mind as this war on unions is waged on a national scale is the most basic human principle of caring for those who take care of us.

I hope that here in Baltimore, as the pension struggle between the city's police and fire labor organizations and Baltimore's mayor and City Council is decided in the courtroom, the judge and the public will bear in mind the faces of those who make up "public safety" in our city. There is something fundamentally set apart about our public safety workers who risk their own lives to protect the rest of us. And it is our intrinsic duty to take care of them in return and make good on what we promised them when they took the oath and put on the uniform.

How can we turn our backs on firefighters and police officers, like Officer Todd Strohman, who after only one year on the force, approached a violent felon who appeared to be armed in downtown Baltimore, only to be shot in the neck? As he lay on the ground, watching blood pour from his mouth, he wondered if he would die at age 26. The bullet now rests just above his heart and missed a main artery by only 1 millimeter. Officer Strohman is back on the job after only two and a half months, again protecting and serving us, showing the same type of bravery he displayed that fateful night. Serving the city he loves has always been his dream.

How can we not come through on our end of the deal for Officer Strohman? How can we tell him that we will not offer him the benefits promised when he took the job?

The nature of public safety work is inherently different from most every other job, based on what workers may encounter each day. What we must remember as this assault on unions proliferates is that we must not waiver in our support for those who took an oath to protect and serve us. We must not lump them in with unions as a whole and vilify them. We must continue to value them and we must support them.

Robert F. Cherry Jr., Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

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