We must remember…‘Invisible’ workers of 9/11 – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director, NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

In a time when the union rights of public employees are under constant attack, when school teachers have to fight for their healthcare benefits and public works jobs are being slashed, we need to remember the time, sacrifice and importance of work these employees do. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we remember and honor the ones we lost, the ones who survived and the ones fighting to bring those responsible to justice. We also need to remember those ‘invisible’ workers who answered the call and did what they could on that awful day and the days following.

Greg Sargent, of the Washington Post’s Plum Line, wrote, “Dozens upon dozens of workers responded to the disaster with real grit and heroism, undertaking the grueling task of cleaning up the mess, digging through the rubble for the injured and the dead, sometimes searching for their own colleagues and friends, for days and days on end, under unspeakably stressful and wrenching conditions.”

AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has created a video that highlights the work public employees did on that day at Ground Zero. It captures something fundamental about 9/11 that’s been mostly forgotten:


“We were digging by hand,” recalls Patrick Bahnken, an emergency medical technician with the D.C. 37 Local 2507. “You’re talking 200 plus story buildings, and we’re digging it out by hand. And I knew that a large number of people that I’d be carrying out or looking for or trying to help, were people that I knew. And that made it very difficult. But again, you’re committed to going for those who would have come for you.”

“They wanted to do their job,” recalls Halloveen Brightly, a police communications specialist with the D.C. 37 Local 1549. “I mean, really wanted to go there and help those people. And you can hear it. I think we worked together really well that day. I hope that whatever they needed from me at that last time, I gave it to them. That’s all.”

According to AFSCME, some 343 firefighters and 60 police officers died as a result of 9/11 and many thousands more remain sick from respiratory ailments attributed to the disaster.

It’s time to stop the attacks on public employees. It’s time to start remembering and honoring the fundamental work these public employees do everyday.