Commentary: Union workers save lives, power Hurricane Sandy recovery

The recovery from Hurricane Sandy is going to require time, money and effort. And, like so many of the heroic rescues that happened during the storm, much of the effort is going to come from union members, and especially from the unionized public workers that the Republican Party has worked so hard to hurt over the past couple of years.

Already we've seen fire fighters, police, EMTs, nurses and other health care workers saving lives. They've gone into flooded streets to rescue people, fought fires, carried patients down flight after flight of stairs to evacuate them. New York City fire fighters belong to the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Many of the health care workers carrying patients out of NYU Langone Medical Center as it was evacuated belong to SEIU1199.

View a slide show of workers responding to the storm's destruction.

Now the hard work of getting back to normal has begun. Garbage collectors are out clearing debris from city streets. Bridges and tunnels are being inspected for safety. Railroad tracks and roads are being assessed and repaired. New York City buses will begin running again Tuesday afternoon, driven by unionized transit workers.

Members of more than a dozen unions were involved in rescue or are involved in recovery. These union members are people whose jobs Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and congressional Republicans would cut, whose pensions and benefits have been slashed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose right to bargain has been under attack across the country.

Make no mistake about it: The fact that these are union workers is important. Unions bargain for the tools their workers need to do the best job possible, from having enough workers on the job to having adequate equipment and training. The wage and benefits improvements union members get help keep workers on the job for longer, so that they develop the skills and experience to handle worst-case scenarios like the one we're seeing now. Having health care keeps them healthy enough to do physically taxing jobs like carrying patients down 17 flights of stairs.

If someone you love was rescued from a flooded area, chances are it was a union member who rescued them. When your power goes back on, chances are a union member will have done the work. Mitt Romney will probably once again encourage you to embrace the line that we like workers, but just hate their unions. But the workers are the unions, and the collective power of unions helped individual workers rescue people or restore power or mobility by making sure they had the tools to get the job done and the pay and benefits such important work deserves.

Laura Clawson writes for The Daily Kos, where this commentary originally appeared.

Reprinted from Workday Minnesota