September 25, 2023
A group of House Republicans is ready to shut down the government if their demand for a series of deep budget cuts and conservative policy changes is not met.
Throughout a week of Veteran Employee Recognition activities that included a joint awards ceremony, a labor-management veterans roundtable, a fun-filled afternoon event with food trucks, music, and benefits information, and a center-wide cookout featuring cornhole and a man in a hot dog costume, everyone had one thought on their mind.
It was repeated by Michigan’s U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell, Rashida Tlaib, and Elissa Slotkin’s staff member, by Detroit’s VA Medical Center Executive Director Chris Cauley, AFGE Local 933 President Benjamin Mahan, and Local 933 Trustee and D7/Local 933 Veteran Coordinator Clarence McKinney. Even rank-and-file employees coming up to the AFGE Veterans table during a week of events were saying it.
“We want Detroit to be a model for the nation.”
A weeklong appreciation of veterans and employees at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center (VAMC) certainly gave AFGE members across the country something to emulate.
“It was truly great to see everyone honoring the valuable contributions and service that veteran employees give to the VA mission,” said McKinney. “We are incredibly proud to be serving our fellow veterans every day.”
Veteran Employee Appreciation Award Ceremony
Since 2011, the VA and AFGE contract has indicated that “The parties agree to jointly present the concept of labor recognition week to the VA National Partnership Council.”
District 7/ AFGE Local 933 Veteran Coordinator Clarence McKinney presented the concept to the labor forum at John D. Dingell VA Medical Center and received enthusiastic support.
A week of events kicked off the Tuesday after Labor Day with an award ceremony for employees of the Detroit VAMC who are also veterans of the armed forces themselves. The emphasis for this week was to recognize the value that veterans bring to our federal services.
The event was jointly held by AFGE Local 933 and VAMC management pursuant to the master agreement. Reps. Debbie Dingell, Rashida Tlaib, and a staffer for Rep. Elissa Slotkin – all from Michigan congressional districts – made appearances to support the awarded veterans, employees, and the VA.
Over 174 total nominations were submitted for the awards by employees and management who nominated veterans who work at the VA for their exceptional work. Overall, 113 separate employees were nominated, and each nominee was recognized with a certificate and a swag bag during the week.
“As veteran employees, we are also the VA’s customer,” said Veteran Coordinator McKinney during the ceremony. “We are watching more closely, having more respect for the veterans who come in here, and we should be the tip of the spear in making sure others do the same. We’re here for a purpose: To treat with respect our brothers and sisters who put it on the line for our country.”
Twenty-five of the top nominees were given special awards for their service to their fellow veterans and the VA facility. In addition, there were seven more awards that were jointly awarded by AFGE Local 933 and VAMC management.
On top of these, four employees who demonstrated a consistent ability to work together in partnership with the local union to resolve workplace issues and improve service for veterans and employees were awarded for excellence in labor-management partnership.
Finally, AFGE Local 933 President Benjamin Mahan was honored for his 37 years of service to the VA and 35 years of service to AFGE, including 17 years as AFGE Local 933 president. He was the recipient of a special leadership award.
“We’ve got to understand that labor and management are in the same boat,” said Mahan later in the week, reflecting on the importance of the appreciation events. “We’ve got to keep rowing in the same direction – and if there’s a hole in one side of the boat, we’re both going to drown.
At the end of the ceremony, Director Chris Cauley gave remarks about the ways management has taken steps to improve partnership and make sure Detroit VAMC leadership gets to hear directly from union leaders. He also praised AFGE local leaders for their advocacy.
“We have robust discussion, but do you know why? Because they care,” said Cauley. “They are advocates for all the employees here. And my hat is off to all those who come and represent the employees at the Detroit VA.”
Food, Fun, and Fellowship
Wednesday and Thursday were also jam packed with events celebrating veteran employees. On Wednesday, AFGE Local 933 sponsored informational tables outside the entrance to the VAMC along with upbeat music and special appearances by local food trucks.
A steady stream of employees filtered through the front door during their lunch break to grab some of the great food, learn about the benefits provided through their union, pick up free AFGE Veterans swag, and even participate in an impromptu dance party.
Employees stopped by the AFGE table to learn about issues their union is fighting for – like a 5.2% pay raise – and how they can get involved. They even shared stories about the work they were doing in the community to help organize and serve veterans, including one member who started an organization called Motown Women Veterans that serves as a network for women veterans in the Detroit area.
On Thursday, employees were treated to more food and festivities, as hundreds of AFGE members and VA employees lined up for hamburgers and hot dogs at a center-wide cookout on Brush Street in Detroit. Employees enjoyed music, games, and free food as VAMC and union leadership again stressed the importance of partnering together to solve employee issues.
Everyone seemed to agree that the series of events was a huge boost to morale – with a sea of smiling employees stretching an entire city block.
“This type of event is important because it helps our members understand that they are appreciated,” said Mahan. “Without the employees, nothing gets done around here. And they’re seeing this week that a job with a strong union is the difference between just a job and a job where you are treated with respect.”
VAMC Management Hears from Veteran Employees During Labor-Management Forum
The week of events culminated in a conversation between veteran employees and management at a forum held in the director’s conference room. Five veteran employees representing different departments within the VA came together to share their experiences as both customers and employees, offering up insights and ideas for collaboration and improvements.
Both management officials and leaders of AFGE Local 933 said the direct line of communication between leadership and veteran union members helps both sides resolve issues, work through problem areas, and consider ideas for how to improve services.
“At the end of the day, the employees and VA leadership have the same issues. We all want this VA to be a great place to work and receive care,” said Mahan. “We have to keep open lines of communication so that we keep rowing in the same direction, treating employees fairly, and making improvements.”
Veteran Coordinator McKinney also had a host of veteran employees express their gratitude for someone stepping up and making sure their collective voices were heard.
A Model for Other VA Locals
Ultimately, the week of events was an incredible success and morale boost for rank-and-file AFGE members who enjoyed the appreciation and celebratory atmosphere. This kind of event is something AFGE locals throughout the country can do at their own facilities.
AFGE will be working on materials to help local union leaders throw their own veteran employee appreciation ceremonies in the coming months, modeled on this successful launch in Detroit.
Stay tuned for more information – but you don’t have to wait until your local hosts an event. It’s always a good day to thank a veteran wearing their second uniform in service to America.
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Even though employers are required by law to protect workers from heat hazard, OSHA has not issued a heat standard that can be enforced and hold employers accountable.