By Micheal Parrotta
Myrtle Beach, SC
I am a firefighter in South Carolina. I respond when the alarm goes off without the slightest hesitation, just like the men and women who work alongside me. Our job is to save lives and property. We do that job with pride. We are deeply committed to keeping our neighbors and communities safe, because we are proud citizens of the great state of South Carolina.
We are also union members.
In her State of the State address, Gov. Nikki Haley proclaimed my fellow firefighters and paramedics and I “are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in the state of South Carolina.”
Her rhetoric made it sound like she was talking about truly evil people. Or an angry invading force. Instead of me and tens of thousands of other hard-working citizens.
Does she really want to deny all of us a voice in our work lives, or drive us out of South Carolina?
That’s a lot of taxpayers, a lot of moms and dads, a lot of Little League coaches. Police officers, dock workers, mail carriers, paper mill workers, utility workers, UPS drivers and more, who work long, tough hours and help keep our state’s economy humming along, are also union members.
What does Gov. Haley have against us?
We are employed here and pay our taxes here. We live middle-class lives. We own houses, keep our yards up and spend money in the state we call home.
Maybe Gov. Haley doesn’t like that our membership in our unions allows us to advocate for such things as better equipment to make sure we can respond effectively and fast.
Maybe the governor doesn’t like that we are able to earn a living that gives us and our families a decent life and keeps us off public assistance.
Or maybe she is listening to the same politicians in Washington who are failing our country by doing the bidding of big corporations — the ones with headquarters well outside of our state that profit mightily from the hard work of South Carolinians.
In her address, Gov. Haley said the state of the state is “surging.” Really? Where’s it surging to? Our state’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. Our citizens are among the lowest paid in the nation.
We know that Wall Street profits have been surging in the past few years. But have you been surging? Are your wages surging? What about your home values?
Gov. Haley is not the only extremist politician pointing fingers at people who work for a living as the evil ones. Her agenda looks like it was written by national corporate lobby groups that just can’t seem to get enough profit and power, and don’t care a whit about the good people of South Carolina.
Firefighting is not the career to choose if you seek fame and fortune. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might try politics. We often refer to fire fighting as “the calling,” because most of us from an early age feel a call to serve our communities. It is tough but rewarding work. And for too many of my colleagues, exposing our bodies to dangerous, traumatic and physically demanding situations and carcinogenic fumes means our career won’t be a long one.
It’s time to stop treating the employees who provide our public services and those who keep our economy going as though we’re selfish demons. We are your neighbors. We go to work every day, just like you. We care about this state and its citizens.
We are not corporations with headquarters in other states or other countries that answer to profit-hungry shareholders on Wall Street. We are South Carolinians who have just as much of a right to have a voice in the workplace and a say in our futures as the folks writing Gov. Haley’s speeches.
Parrotta is president of the S.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, a member of the SC Progressive Network.