Professionals for the Public Interest Goes Public

On Wednesday, May 20, 2009, 19 national and global organizations including DPE launched Professionals for the Public Interest: Associations and Unions Defending Professional Integrity (PftPI).

The press conference brought together leaders of professional associations and unions, who stressed the importance of professional integrity to professionals and the public. The event marked a culmination of more than two years of DPE outreach. It also announced the PftPI website, www.pftpi.org.

A key component of the website: a contest, “Integrity at Work,” for the most compelling story about defending professional integrity against external pressures. The deadline for submissions is July 31. To read the contest rules, click on http://pftpi.org/index.php/tell-your-story/. Five finalists will be announced on Labor Day. Website visitors will choose a winner by October 1.

A second key component of the website: an invitation to share your ideas about strengthening professional integrity against external pressures. Heightening the timeliness of the invitation is a March 9 memorandum from President Obama, who directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to develop recommendations for strengthening scientific integrity in the Executive Branch. To see the President’s memorandum on scientific integrity, click on http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Memorandum-for-the-Heads-of-Executive-Departments-and-Agencies-3-9-09/.

2DPE President Paul E. Almeida (right) opened the event. He said the goal of PftPI is to permit professionals “to do their work on the basis of expertise, experience, and high standards, with transparency and trust. Achieving that goal means a better quality of life for all of us.” He declared:

“The theme that we focus on today matters to professionals and to the public. Do you want your children to learn something at school? Do you want to survive a hospital stay? To fly safely? To breathe the air and drink the water? To have full access to the information that fuels progress in a democracy? If you answer yes, you value the ability of professionals to do their jobs right.”

3Glenn S. Ruskin (left), Director of Public Affairs for the American Chemical Society (ACS), underscored the theme: “To be a solution provider, scientists and engineers must . . . have unfettered freedom to explore issues and express their findings in a transparent, unbiased and understandable manner.” Federal censorship could impair the work of scientists and engineers and yield bad public policy. ACS was “encouraged and galvanized” by the March 9 memo from President Obama.

4United American Nurses President Ann Converso (right) praised the coming together in PftPI of professional associations and unions: “. . . every minute spent at the bedside of a patient, RNs are acting both as health care advocates, protecting our patients and protected by our union, and highly trained professional caregivers. For RNs to do their job well as nurses, they must play both roles.”

Converso provided “a real-life example”:

“The Michigan Nurses Association/UAN represents RNs at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo.

“Nurses have told us, and a mountain of research has confirmed, that when there are too few RNs at the bedside, patient care suffers. Patients suffer with increased falls, secondary infections, hospital-acquired pneumonia and more. Surgery patients in hospitals with too few nurses are 6 percent more likely to die from complications like shock and sepsis.

“At Borgess, due to budget constraints hospital management changed the RN-patient ratio to give each nurse more patients every day, every shift. Since then, patient satisfaction has dropped by almost 20 percent. Patient falls and hospital-acquired pressure ulcers increased dramatically. And there has been a decrease in nurse satisfaction and an increase in RN turnover.”

At Borgess, a union is battling against external pressures so professionals can do their jobs right – in the interests of the public.

5Maintaining professional integrity against external pressures is often not easy. It has, in the words of Mary W. Ghikas (right), Senior Associate Executive Director of the American Library Association, “put librarians in the center of many battles – to provide information services to immigrants and English-language learners, to welcome teens into the library, to serve the homeless, to provide unpopular materials, to protect library records from unauthorized search.” Not to defend professional integrity, however, carries costs for the public: “narrowing public discourse as competing orthodoxies wall themselves off from disturbing concepts, in the minds that are not challenged, in new works that are not created.”

6Mark S. Frankel (left), Director, Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, put the public launch of PftPI in a larger context: “It is useful to view science as a ‘community of common purpose,’ which enables scientists to think beyond their own self-interests to the application of their knowledge and skills to the greater social good. The Professionals for the Public Interest Coalition is an even larger community, bringing the power of a coalition of professional groups in common purpose to the service of society. The Coalition will provide a platform for professional communities to share information and best practices for strengthening and promoting professional integrity. Additionally, it will provide a voice for professionals in many fields of study that address critical societal issues. AAAS looks forward to working with other members of the coalition to advance the public interest.”

7AFT President Randi Weingarten (right) welcomed the alliance between professional associations and unions that PftPI represents: “When professionals are left out of policy-making what we get is top-down, ivory-tower policies that don’t work in the real world. Worse, what we get is a stifling of the thought process and the freedom to speak that we make and see real serious mistakes. . . . But the flip side is this, when professionals are accorded the respect, the recognition and the rewards that we and they so rightfully deserve there is no limit to what can be accomplished. School research is quite clear about this: When there is collaboration in school environments, we see successful schools and we see successful outcomes for children.”
Photos by Chris McManes, IEEE-USA.

Besides the organizations that the six speakers represented, the endorsing organizations in PftPI are Actors’ Equity Association, American Federation of Musicians; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Library Association-Allied Professional Association, American Public Health Association; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers; National Association for the Education of Young Children, National Association of Social Workers, Office and Professional Employees International Union; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union; and United Steelworkers.

For the complete comments of the speakers, their biographies, videos of the public launch, and other background about PftPI, see the PftPI Virtual Press Packet at http://pftpi.org/index.php/virtual-press-packet/. For more information about Professionals for the Public Interest, please contact DPE President Paul E. Almeida, palmeida@aflcio.org, 202-638-0320 ext 112, or Executive Director David Cohen, dcohen@dpeaflcio.org, 202-638-0320 ext 113.