AFT Public Employees Semifinalists
Seed Analyst, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Springfield, Ill.
Illinois Federation of Public Employees, Local 4408
The longtime seed analyst for the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Products Inspection division left her comfort zone and publicly spoke out against the budget-driven layoffs of 21 workers at her agency. Not one of the jobs was disposable, in her opinion—not the jobs in the seed lab where commercial feed, seed and fertilizer products are tested to make sure they meet advertised quality and quantity specifications; not the jobs in the warehouse section that licenses grain dealers and grain warehouses, and administers the grain insurance fund; and not the weights and measures inspectors who make sure commercial weighing and measuring devices like gas pumps and grocery scales are accurate. “I couldn’t put a value on the services,” says Books. “Our work is important to the economy even though most people don’t know what we do.”
Books was interviewed for radio, television and print media. She was a featured speaker at a rally with more than 5,000 public employees and their supporters at the state Capitol rotunda. “I knew talking to the public was what had to be done,” says Books. “My biggest fear was that our jobs were going to be privatized to private industry.” Such a move, she says, would undermine the state’s ability to regulate, and result in conflicts of interest to the detriment of consumers, farmers and other agriculture industries. Informing the public was just one part of Books’ outreach, however. From the time she was laid off Nov. 1 until the time she was back on the job Dec. 7, Books was trekking to the Capitol in Springfield to lobby legislators several times a week. They, too, had to be told what the layoffs meant to the state, its agriculture industry and its consumers.
“I went to Democrats and Republicans because that is what you have to do when you are trying to save your job,” says Books. Thanks to Books’ stepping up, speaking out and putting pressure on elected officials, the 21 Agriculture Department employees were called back to work. “I did what I had to do,” says Books.
Child Welfare Caseworker, Franklin County Children Services, Columbus, Ohio
Federation of Franklin County Children Services Employees, Local 3143
Standing up and speaking out for the vulnerable and downtrodden is second nature to Kathy Bruner, a child welfare caseworker for Franklin County (Ohio) Children Services. So it is no surprise to those who know her that when Gov. John Kasich and the Republican majority in the Ohio Legislature set their sights on Ohio’s 400,000 public employees, Bruner stood up and spoke out. Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, widely known for eroding public employees’ union rights, also diminished public employee health, pension and sick leave benefits.
“It was really important to me to get involved in the fight against Senate Bill 5 because of its unfair attack on public employees—all public employees—here in Ohio,” says Bruner, who spent lunch breaks, evenings and weekends organizing, getting information out to her colleagues, attending rallies, working at phone banks and canvassing. “It had been demonstrated that the cuts they were wanting to make to public employees’ benefits and salaries were not going to help close the budget problem here in Ohio, and we were basically being scapegoated by Gov. Kasich. It was a way for him to weaken, if not destroy, unions in Ohio.”
As many who watched the events unfold in Ohio know, defeating Senate Bill 5 was a months-long process that required commitment and dedication from many like Bruner. In November, voters struck down the law by a 61-to-39 margin. “There are politicians out there who will attack anyone who won’t stand up for themselves, if they see some gain in it for themselves,” says Bruner, noting that it is crucial for public employees to be involved in politics and elections. “It is important to look at the candidates, what they represent, who they represent and the issues they support that impact our lives every day.” If the true test of strength is how one responds to a crisis, Bruner has passed with flying colors.
Development Specialist, Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Hartford, Conn.
Administrative and Residual Employees Union, Local 4200
Lindy Gold is repairing the world one kind act at a time. It is her way of fulfilling “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that means “repairing the world” and that in Judaism has come to connote social action and the pursuit of social justice. For more than 40 years, Gold has been an inveterate community activist. Recently, she was elected chairperson of the board of directors at Gateway Community College Foundation. It is a position Gold embraces because she views community colleges as an important tool in ending the cycle of poverty.
“If the statistics are true, even a certificate program at a community college can make a half-million dollar difference in one’s earnings over their career,” says Gold, noting that as people are lifted out of poverty, their aspirations, role-modeling and values change. “I think that is really the only way you intrude on the cycle of poverty” in families. In addition to the Gateway Community College Foundation, Gold is currently serving on the board of the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut, and on the boards of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven and the United Way of Greater New Haven. She’s also been active with the Community Action Agency, Casa Otonal, Camp Laurelwood, and Character Counts Connecticut. And in the 1970s, she founded two organizations, which are still operational today, that provide housing, social programs, and workforce training and placement to people with mental illness.
Gold was working to repair the world long before she went to work for the state of Connecticut in 1998 as a development specialist with the Department of Economic and Community Development. “I took this job in order to do for a living what I do for life,” says Gold, a member of the Administrative and Residual Employees Union. Public service, she says, is “a wonderful way of making a living but in the nicest way possible.” Not long after taking the job, Gold launched a workplace charitable endeavor “to level the playing field” for schoolchildren who are living in shelters and foster homes. The goal: to collect school supplies so kids are ready to learn when they walk into their classrooms each fall. The annual school-supply drive was so popular that it has expanded to include the state’s Department of Children and Families, Department of Consumer Protection and Office of the State Treasurer. For all that she does for others, Gold insists, “I get as much as I give.”
Lead Maintenance Supply Specialist, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska
Kenai Borough Employees Association, Local 6140
Ryan Marquis does what he does because that’s who he is. “For me, it is not a great sacrifice because I really love what I do,” says Marquis. What Marquis doesn’t realize, however, is that his work inspires others, including his nominator. Marquis is lead maintenance supply specialist for Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska. He got the job and became a union member at a pivotal point: All public employees hired on or after July 1, 2006, like Marquis, were placed in a defined-contribution retirement program.
Marquis was all too familiar with the outrage over the conversion from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan. He had been working for the borough as a temporary employee while his full-time colleagues and their statewide parent union, the Alaska Public Employees Association, were trying to stop the law from being implemented. So when a position opened on the APEA’s Employee Political Information Committee, Marquis expressed interest—and got the seat. “I was baptized by fire, so to speak,” says Marquis, noting that he felt a duty to get involved in the union and its political fights because “I watched the people who were secure in their retirement fighting for those who were not. I couldn’t sit by and let those people fight my fight.”
That’s the attitude Marquis took to Wisconsin following Gov. Scott Walker’s ambush on public employees and their unions last year. “I think anyone who has a passion for the labor movement saw what was going on in Wisconsin and knew that Wisconsin needed help,” says Marquis, who volunteered for two separate stints in Wisconsin. “If this can happen in Wisconsin, the birthplace of the public union movement, this can happen anywhere.” Marquis, who became vice president of his local last year, also serves on the Kenai City Council and is a part-time college student working toward a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies. “It feels weird to be recognized for doing something that you love so much,” says Marquis. “Anytime I can help someone, that is reward and recognition enough for me.”
Correctional Officer, Baltimore County Department of Corrections, Towson, Md.
Baltimore County Federation of Public Employees, Local 4883
Some men measure their success by how much money or power they have. Michael Morris measures success by one kind act—one good deed, one act of courage, one life saved—at a time. “The first time I ever saved a life, I knew I was going to be in public service,” says Morris. That fateful day was when Morris was 16 years old. A house across the street from his was on fire. He followed his uncle, a fire captain, into the burning house, and following his uncle’s lead, Morris helped everyone out of the home to safety.
For Morris, public service is not just a career. It is a way of life. His job: correctional officer at the Baltimore County (Md.) Detention Center. His duty: sergeant in the Maryland National Guard. His passion: volunteer firefighter and medic. Morris has saved two more lives since the house fire. Most recently, in December, he derailed an inmate’s suicide attempt by hanging, which earned him a director’s commendation. And during his last tour in Iraq, he saved the life of a fellow soldier after their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. “If it wasn’t for my medical training, he probably wouldn’t be alive.”
Morris’ life’s work is a tapestry of selflessness, strength and leadership. On a typical day, Morris spends the morning volunteering at a firehouse. Then he’s off to work for the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift at the detention center. Since joining the National Guard in 2004, he’s had four tours of duty—three on the front lines in Iraq and one noncombat tour at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At the detention center, “I always try to put myself in their shoes,” he says, and when it comes to dealing with inmates, “sometimes just asking how they are makes the biggest difference in the world. Everybody is innocent until proven guilty.” On the battlefield, Morris says, “I put my soldiers first, and I put me last.” Morris is driven by an innate desire to make a difference in society. “I gotta feel like I’m doing something,” he says, noting that his philosophy is that “if you can make one positive change in someone’s life or have one positive influence, you’ve done your job.” At 29, Morris has success.