AFSCME launches ‘Staff the Front Lines’ initiative

Understaffing of state and local government jobs has hit crisis levels.

Nationwide, more than 500,000 public-sector jobs are vacant, AFSCME’s research shows. That means vital public services aren’t being delivered. Whether it’s the operators who field 911 calls, the people who deliver SNAP benefits, corrections officers who keep our prisons safe or countless other jobs that keep our cities and towns running, our country is facing a dire shortage of public service workers. The staffing shortage also means that public service workers are shouldering impossible workloads, leaving them exhausted.

But AFSCME is fighting back.

This month, AFSCME is launching a massive retention, recruitment and outreach initiative called Staff the Front Lines, which will address the public service worker shortages.

The initiative will find qualifiedcompassionate and dedicated people to work in public service through job fairs and other venues and will promote policies to help state and local governments attract talent and cut the red tape that makes it hard to hire people.

“This is a real issue and a real problem, not just for our union and for those who provide public services,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders told Governing magazine for an article previewing the initiative. “It’s a real problem for the citizens who rely upon public services every single day.”

The pandemic only exacerbated what has been a long-running problem. Despite state and local governments having the funding to fill these vital roles, in part thanks to AFSCME’s efforts to deliver the American Rescue Plan, public sector jobs aren’t being filled – and they haven’t been since before the Great Recession.

At the same time, anyone who’s applied for a government job knows how difficult – and lengthy – the hiring process can be.

To solve the crisis, the initiative will first aim to raise awareness, so the public and lawmakers understand how these staffing shortages put our nation at risk. Whether it’s the next public health crisis or a natural disaster, too few public service workers on the job means our cities and towns can’t respond effectively when called on to do so.

Staff the Front Lines will also partner with state and local governments to publicize public sector jobs and make applying for them easier. The initiative will build a pipeline for talent in public service, working with state and local governments to create apprenticeships and develop career opportunities so that qualified people who enter public service see a future for themselves in public service.