May 7-13 is Public Service Recognition Week. As the largest union representing government workers, AFGE is proud and honored to lift the voices of government employees who touch the lives of every American with their service to our country.
Whether it’s the workers at the VA who care for our veterans, the correctional officers who keep our communities safe, the inspectors who make sure our food is safe, the TSA officers who maintain the security of traveling Americans, the EPA employees who protect our environment and public health, the SSA workers who make sure our seniors’ Social Security benefits arrive on time, or the many other public servants who work every day on behalf of the American public – these workers provide vital services, allowing us to live our lives and pursue our goals.
We thank Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., for introducing a resolution to honor government workers during this Public Service Recognition Week. He was joined by his colleagues Reps. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
This year we sat down with several government workers and asked them about their jobs and what kind of support they need from the American public. We thank them for their service. For us, every week is Public Service Recognition Week.
Marie Owens Powell, Council 238, Environmental Protection Agency
Marie is president of Council 238 representing EPA employees across the country. She’s also an underground storage tank inspector at EPA Region 3 in Philadelphia. She has been a member of AFGE for about 20 years.
How does your job help the American people and your local community?
What we do is we inspect underground storage tanks at your local gas stations normally, and we ensure that individuals are monitoring their tanks, their piping, and there’s no petroleum releases to the environment, so we’re protecting the ground, the drinking water for those local communities.
Do you have enough people to carry out this important mission?
We’ve lost a lot of staff. I think we’re down over 1,000 inspectors across the country, so it becomes harder and harder to inspect the correct number of facilities that we need to. And that’s not just the underground storage tanks communities; that pretty much strikes across the board.
The American people should support the agency getting more staff. Right now, we’re doing it, but we’re doing it with fewer people. Those people are starting to burn out. You need to get people in, get them trained up and get these inspections done, get these permits written, get these grants issued. That’s what we have to do. We have to get in and get our job done. We need more people to do that.
You’ve been with AFGE for a long time. Why did you decide to get involved and what keeps you going?
I got involved in the union because I wanted to make a difference. I saw individual employees who didn’t have the confidence to speak up for themselves. That’s why I got involved and then it just kept going. It’s a great feeling to help other people. I thrived on it, so that’s why I got involved and why I stayed involved.
Lavawn Green, Local 940, Veterans Benefits Administration
Lavawn is a veterans service representative at VBA Philadelphia Regional Office and Insurance Center. She helps veterans file claims for service-connected disabilities.
What’s it like working for the VBA?
I take pride in what it is that I do because I know that the mission is important. Working for Veterans Benefits Administration gives me a sense of pride for all of the service members who are out there who provided their lives. Their families have sacrificed a lot in order to support the country, keep the country secure, and all of our efforts as American citizens. So it’s a sense of pride that I have to give back.
How long have you been a union member and how did you get involved?
In 2006 I became an AFGE member. In 2006 I joined VBA as a veterans service representative, and after understanding the job and getting to know the work, I discovered that the work we were doing wasn’t recorded correctly for the purposes of performance. I noticed that something needed to change in order to capture what it was that we were actually doing. And when I talked to management, it was a stonewall. So the employee that I sat next to was a union rep, and he said you would be perfect for the union. You asked the right questions. They would never answer them, but you asked the right questions. I became a union member and shortly afterward a steward.
What are the benefits of being an AFGE member?
There are so many benefits outside of just supporting employees that AFGE offers to employees – whether it’s additional training for upward mobility or education benefits and providing assistance with personal goals that you have in life. So it’s been fantastic.
Greg Dorsey, Local 3184, Social Security Administration
Greg is a Technical Expert Supplemental Security Income in the SSA field office in Pasadena, Texas. He’s been an AFGE member since 2010.
How does your job help the American people?
We help everybody from retirement to disabilities, from premature birth to the elderly giving them their benefits through Medicare and Medicaid services. We are the backbone when it comes to supplemental income. We’re helping children that have reached or are at the low advantage point because of medical issues and disability, or if people are retirement age. We receive between 800 to 1,200 people a day, so we see a lot of people.
Why did you join AFGE?
Because of the importance of what the union does. It protects the people. It keeps the standards for equity when it comes to fairness, when it comes to the employers and the workers. I also come from a long line of union officials. My dad was a Local 1429 vice president in Baltimore when I was going to school. So I was union by heart.
How does being an AFGE member change your life?
When there is a foundation, it gives you fewer things to worry about. When I know that someone has my back, or someone is going to stand in the gap for me for my rights, it makes you concentrate on the work. And being a Social Security employee, we actually deal with the public. And our bosses are the public. With AFGE, with the union, they help ensure that I’m going to be okay as I serve the public.
How did you get involved in the union?
A good friend of mine Oscar Gonzales represented me. First of all, he told me about the work of the union and then he was one of my reps when I had to file an EEO complaint. That set things in place for what I’m doing now.
Juan Ibarra, Local 3599, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Juan Ibarra is a mediator with EEOC and a steward with Local 3599 in Tennessee. He has been an AFGE member for about 10 years – first at the Department of Labor and currently at the EEOC.
How does your job help the American people?
Employers know their responsibilities, and as a federal law enforcement agency that’s responsible for ensuring that discrimination is not tolerated, we have a giant megalithic responsibility in our country to ensure that everybody is treated fairly and equally. And because of understaffing, we have such a struggle with being able to provide attention to all cases or everybody that comes to us. We struggle because we’re short staffed. We don’t have enough personnel, but everybody in our offices is extremely dedicated to their work. The struggle now becomes are we giving a fair chance to the public who are coming to us because we don’t have the basic needs to get the mission done and that becomes problematic for everybody. And my job as a steward is to make sure that everybody’s voice is heard, not just the employees, but the people that come to seek our assistance.
Why did you join AFGE and how did you become involved in the union?
I joined AFGE because I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps. My family grew up in the Central Coast and Central California, and they were part of the first unions in agriculture. They followed Cesar Chavez and their march for human rights and for workers’ rights, and knowing that the federal government has AFGE and the union, I wanted to be a part of that.
I got involved with the union because we had no representation in our office. And so people were constantly asking what is the right thing to do, this is what’s going on, there are issues. I was constantly advocating for what the collective bargaining agreement said and I was approached and asked if I wanted to be a steward since I was already performing some of the duties.
How does union membership benefit your community at large?
Because we’re taking care of the folks that work for us so that we can maintain a great workforce so people are not leaving for other jobs, they’re not leaving for something better. So ensuring that our voices are heard is helping not only the employees but therefore helping the public.