Renita Smith, a school bus driver in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and a member of ACE-AFSCME Local 2250, was honored recently by students and school system officials as a hero after she saved 20 children when her bus caught fire September 12.
Smith, a 17-year veteran driver in Prince George’s County, acted quickly when she smelled smoke and then saw flames while driving her daily route in the suburban Maryland neighborhood.
When asked about the ordeal, Smith said that she realized that calling in to her supervisor wasn’t going to help solve the crisis, so she put the radio down and “got my babies up and in a straight line in aisle. I had them hold hands.”
Smith then led all 20 children off the bus and to safety, far away from the smoke and flames. Then, without hesitation, Smith went back onto the bus to make sure no child had been left behind.
“There wasn’t a bus attendant with me that day to do the count,” said Smith. “So I knew I had to go back on the bus to make sure I got all my babies.”
Smith says she was just doing her job. But Prince George’s County School CEO Kevin Maxwell said, “To get off that bus and to go back again to make sure that everybody was safely off the bus is heroic.”
Students that were on the bus that day agreed, calling Smith “our hero,” during an assembly held in her honor.
But Smith brushed off the praise. “As I’m driving that bus, they’re my babies,” she said. “I’m their mom until I drop them off to their biological moms.”
A United Steelworkers local union member from Texas was named one of the top volunteers in the nation for leading a project to provide scholarships for survivors of domestic violence to study for family-sustaining employment at union-represented oil refineries.
Priscilla Puente, an oil refinery worker and member of USW Local 227 in Pasadena, Texas, on Thursday night won the Jefferson Awards Foundation’s Outstanding Public Service by an Employee honor. The award was announced at the national ceremony in Washington, D.C. Puente leads her local union’s efforts to raise money for scholarships that help woman at The Bridge Over Troubled Water shelter. The Jefferson Award is considered America’s gold seal of public service.
“The work of Priscilla Puente and her USW sisters and brothers is life-changing, and we’re so proud that she has received this well-deserved national honor,” said Leo W. Gerard, USW International President. “Priscilla understands that family-supporting employment means economic freedom, and that freedom helps victims of domestic abuse become survivors.” Puente, a member of the union’s Women of Steel and Next Generation activist programs, was among 14 members and retirees honored as 2016 winners of Jefferson Awards as part of the USW Cares program, which encourages and highlights the community service work of our union. She was selected as the USW’s overall Jefferson Awards Foundation Champion volunteer for 2016 and represented the union at the national ceremony, where she was selected out of volunteers from around the nation for the top award. “I hope this honor helps shine a light on the important work of Bridge Over Troubled Water, whose mission is really the same as our mission as a union,”
Puente said. “They want to break the cycle of domestic violence, and we’re actually helping do that by helping people help themselves. We’ve shown that if you give someone in need a family-sustaining job, you change their life.”
“Words cannot express how proud we are of Priscilla for winning such a prestigious national honor,” said Ruben Garza, director of USW District 13, which covers Texas. “She represents what it means to be a Steelworker: someone who works hard not just on the job but in our communities. Steelworkers really do have big hearts and we hope this award helps inspire more people to help those in need.”
The USW is in its first year as a Champion with the Jefferson Awards Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to building a culture of service through a variety of programs and awards.
About the Jefferson Awards Foundation: The Jefferson Awards Foundation is committed to tapping into the incredible capacity and spirit of Americans. Its Youth programs, Students In Action, LEAD360, and GlobeChangers, support, train and empower youth to be leaders and changemakers. Its vast network of Media Partners honors local unsung heroes who are the best of their communities. Its Champions and National Partners are engaging, activating and celebrating their millions of constituents and employees. All together, working to build a culture of service in the country. For more information: www.jeffersonawards.org, @JeffersonAwards.
Matthew McDearmon, AFGE BOP
When Matthew McDearmon sat down at his new employee orientation at the Bureau of Prisons, he wasn’t expecting to become an official in his local union – much less the 300,000th member of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
McDearmon, an Air Force veteran and correctional officer at Administrative U.S. Penitentiary Thomson, knows the power of teamwork and the value of speaking up together. To him, joining the union with his colleagues was just the beginning of making a better workplace for current employees and creating a brighter future for the next generation of public servants.
“I think it’s good to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” he said. “You can learn the issues that are going on within the institution and the area. Hopefully you can help solve any disconnects between yourself and the management.”
At the orientation, McDearmon heard his coworkers’ plan to make the worksite more safe, and he liked their ideas. Then, he got involved. ■
I was in my daughter’s kindergarten class a couple of years ago and I was talking to another parent at the school who happened to be an electrician and an IBEW member. He was telling me about the benefits of being a union member. He knew I was a welder and suggested I look into apprenticeship at UA.
Joining the UA as an apprentice meant that I would have to take a pay cut at first. That was a scary prospect. I have six kids, and I am the only breadwinner in the family. I had to do some soul searching but in the end, when the door opened for this opportunity, I jumped through.
As a second year apprentice, I work for Walter E. William, a mechanical services contractor and I attend school in the evenings to hone my skills.
I know being a union plumber will provide me and my family better opportunities in the future.
Beyond work, I have gotten the chance to use my skills and training to help others in my community. You see, I live in Flint, Michigan, where city officials admitted in October that our water contained unsafe lead levels that could make people sick. When the news first broke, I heard that the city was going to train some folks to go out and perform filter installations. Instead, with one phone call, UA Local 370 had almost 400 union plumbers volunteer to help. I’m one of them. Shoulder-to-shoulder, house-by-house we have installed filters, and in some cases faucets, in homes across Flint.
And, in every house we visit, we also check the type of pipes leading into the house. If they have lead or galvanized pipes, the house may need to have the main line replaced. We let the homeowner know which type of pipes they have, and we also tell the Department of Public Works since its records haven’t been converted to computer files yet. What’s going on in Flint is serious and it breaks my heart. I’m just glad that I can help.
I’m proud to be an apprentice at the UA Local 370, and I’m proud to be helping my community right now in its time of need.
After a brief stint in college, I worked for a non-union employer which did not offer health insurance, raises, or a pension. There was no security to be had, whatsoever. Looking for more stability, I applied for a job at the United States Steel, Fairless Works, and received my first taste of the union experience.
The most I’d understood about unions was conveyed by certain members of my family, and theirs was not a positive reaction. Instead of the “lazy, overpaid, unskilled workforce” that was articulated by them and others in my surrounding area, I found a very skilled and educated workforce. They were a hard-working group and very dedicated to producing top quality steel. I was also very impressed when they spoke about their Collective Bargaining achievements at the Local and International level in the areas of safety, pensions and benefits for their members and their families.
The members of Local 4889 were very involved in the community, and very informed with the political issues that affected our area.
Unfortunately, during the turbulent times of the 1980’s, when many steel plants were crippled by the illicit dumping of foreign steel on our shores, thousands of our brothers and sisters were forced out of work. The majority of our plant was shuttered and many, including myself had to find work elsewhere.
For over ten years, elsewhere meant very inferior paying jobs with no benefits, no pensions or 401K plans for their workforce. It also meant dealing with taskmaster bosses who had no regard for the health, welfare, or safety of their workers.
In 2005, my wife lost her job and her health insurance, both mainstays for our family. With a young daughter, and a baby daughter just born, I decided to take a ride to Local 4889, to see if they had any leads on prospective job opportunities. Not only did they have a lead, it was back in the only part of U.S Steel which remained open; our Galvanizing Line.
My union went to bat for me in a time of crisis. I was quite possibly months away from losing my house. Now, for the first time in years, I have a strong income, a pension, superior medical benefits and a safe work environment. My wife, five children, and I are a proud, active and grateful union family.
Union Brother since 2005, Brian Jerlin fondly remembers being selected at age 17 to begin apprenticeship in a new program called Public Works Center (now Naval Facility Engineering Mid-Atlantic). With a desire to excel and motivation to learn, Brian was the first Pipefitter to finish this state wide program.
Brian shared very matter-of-factly that as a youngster, he was hot tempered, a ﬁghter and loved a challenge. He smiled as he thanked his mentor, Brother Steve Newsom for his wisdom, patience and guidance. Brian stated that his mentor took a sincere interest in his aspirations. Brian wants those currently in apprenticeship programs to know that hard work pays off. “Always show up on time with a willingness to learn. Treat each other with respect. Be committed to do the work. Set goals. Encourage each other. Always remember that every problem has a solution. Be willing to search for the knowledge.” Brian continued, “our union brothers and sisters learn by doing – together.”
In 2014, Brian was elected President of United Association (UA) Local 376 in Norfolk, Virginia. Brian stated that in addition to the duties and responsibilities that come with being a Union President, he loves working side by side with his brothers and sisters. “That’s how you get to know each other.” Brian stressed that as President of Local 376, he trusts his representatives. “From the Steward on up – each union member has a voice – use it. Your opinion matters. Show up to the meetings and immerse yourself in your local union.” Through his leadership, Brian stated, “we identify and address concerns before they become issues.”
Even the photo is indicative of the unity of Local 376. President Jerlin is the one wearing the Captain America T-shirt. This photo was taken after they went to the home of a brother who was out of work, recovering long term from an illness. The men in support of their fellow brother surprised him and his family by completely replacing a much needed sewage line at his residence.
Camouflaged under the working gear of President Jerlin is a true warrior spirit. “I still have that ﬁre burning within – but I have learned to temper it.” You see, President Jerlin is an Applied Wing Chun Student and Instructor (Wing Chun’s most famous student – Bruce Lee). “‘Strength tempered with wisdom’ is my motto.” President Jerlin stated that as with anything – be it pipefitting, HVAC, plumbing, sprinkler ﬁtters, management, negotiations, Wing Chun, etc., much practice is required to be precise and accurate; there are no short cuts.
With his unquenchable thirst for knowledge and his passion for teaching, President Jerlin traveled to China in October to instruct and continue to learn the art of Wing Chun.