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A rally in Columbus raises alarm about a shortage of public service workers

A 911 operator with the Ohio State University Police Department answers a call.
Ohio State University Office of Administration & Planning
A 911 operator with the Ohio State University Police Department answers a call.

Members of the AFSCME union representing city, county and state employees rallied Thursday at Sensenbrenner Park in downtown Columbus raising attention about the public service staffing shortage.

The rally to “Staff the Front Lines, is directed at the nearly 1 million public service jobs that are vacant across the country. The rally has taken place in major cities across the U.S.

"We've got like 970,000 plus jobs that are vacant across the country and state and city and county and schools,” said AFSCME national president Lee Saunders. “And that has a direct impact on the quality of public services being provided to the citizens of our community. So, we decided to be aggressive in dealing with this problem."

AFSCME Ohio Council 8 and AFSCME Local 1632 in Columbus report nearly 450 civil service job classifications with up to four openings each. These include positions in public safety, health care, water, and sewer facilities, 911 operators, corrections officers and school bus drivers.

"Jobs for public services are understaffed and that has a direct impact on the members who are there and the workers who are there trying to provide these services,” Saunders said. “They're under tremendous pressure and they're working overtime, not seeing their families because they don't have someone next to them on the left or the right to help provide those services. And they're becoming burned out, quite honestly.”

Saunders said the goal is to educate communities, hold high school job fairs and ease the requirements for applying for public service jobs.

“Developing apprenticeships, apprenticeship programs to deal with these issues so we can fund and then staff the front lines and make sure that people understand and are educated about the openings that exist and the fact that these are good jobs, good paying jobs with good benefits, with good health care, with good retirement,” Saunders said.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.