Congratulations to Paula Schelling Soldner who has been elected as the first woman to hold a position as chair of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals!
Paula was elected Aug. 23 at the National Joint Council’s convention in Nashville, Tenn., for a three-year term. The joint council comprises eight councils representing FSIS employees across the country. She served as the joint council’s vice president for six years. Prior to that, she served as its secretary-treasurer for three years.
“I’m very happy. I’m very excited. I’ve been in the acting role since June 2019 so I kind of have a feel of what is required of me, but I’m excited in moving forward with this,” she said.
Her immediate and biggest challenge as chair of the joint council is making sure the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) provide safe working conditions for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been an ongoing challenge to socially distance when inspectors have to work elbow to elbow with 10-15 other inspectors along with hundreds of plant workers in a slaughterhouse.
Last year when the outbreak began, the agency failed to provide any protection. This year they are able to provide masks, face shields, and hand sanitizer stations. Infection was very high last year. It went down earlier this year but came back up again due to the Delta variant. Paula said she got this kind of information from employees – not the agency, which has refused to provide data on COVID.
Vaccination is currently not required for employees. They are required to wear a mask and a face shield at their regular worksite. If they are detailed to a different plant, they have to take a test before traveling. If they test positive, they need to be quarantined.
Paula is also trying to get the agency to bargain a new contract. One of President Biden’s executive orders repealed Trump’s three anti-worker executive orders and directed agencies to suspend or rescind the Trump-era provisions in contracts.
Paula is also trying to get a total of 16 unfair labor practice complaints resolved. These ULP complaints challenge the agency’s failure to bargaining over changes in working conditions. One of the ULP, for example, seeks to stop the agency’s pilot program to increase inspection line speed for beef processing at a plant in Holcomb, Kansas, from 390 cows per hour to up to 425. There’s a rumor that they’re implementing the same program at the slaughter facility in Schulyer, Neb., in January next year.
Paula began her federal career in 1987 when she was employed by the non-unionized Agriculture Marketing Service. When AMS was moved to unionized FSIS, she became an AFGE member. She has worn many hats since she joined AFGE. She was local president of Local 666 in Milwaukee and now its secretary-treasurer. She’s currently president of AFGE’s Northern Council representing FSIS workers in Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Earlier this year, her colleagues in other councils honored her with the Above & Beyond Award for stepping up to the plate and taking on more responsibilities when then joint council president had to take care of his health issues.
Congratulations again on this well-deserved victory, Paula!