Manny Vargas, TWU Local 252, school bus driver in Suffolk County, NY
After I completed my duties in the Armed Forces, U.S. Navy, I immediately joined the nation’s workforce. I believe that among the most important responsibility in our lives is work, for ourselves and for society at large.
Over the years I have performed public safety duties. In my jobs at Pan America Airlines and American Airlines, I worked as an aircraft maintenance technician, with responsibility for passenger and airline employee safety.
As a current member of TWU Local 252, I am responsible for the safety of school children on the school bus that I drive. My work requires that I know and observe many state and federal laws and regulations. I am employed by Suffolk Transportation System and enjoy many benefits as a result of my union membership. My work is deeply satisfying as it rejuvenates me daily to deal with children from diverse backgrounds.
In May, it will be a year that I’ve been with Bath Iron Works as a sandblaster. I came in as a general laborer. It’s an L4 position where you assist other trades. You learn plasma cutting and torch cutting and grinding. You assist other trades and you learn a little bit about what each trade does. It gives you the opportunity to try things out and see what you want to do.
It’s a difficult job without a doubt…I’ve always been somebody to challenge myself, that person where GIRLS don’t do that…well oh yea, I’ll show you that they do. That’s been my thing so when the position came up…it seemed like it would be a challenge, something to see if I’d like to do. Keep up with the boys I guess.
I love my job. I love the crew that I work with, they’re like family. It’s definitely a young person’s job. I won’t do it forever. It was a lot to learn. A lot of stress at the beginning.
There are different levels of sandblasting I suppose but this is massive. We blast the entire units to get them ready for paint. So you know you get a three-inch hose, blasting out steel grit sometimes 120/150 pounds of pressure which is enough to blow you right over…which had happened. You learn to do what you must do. Sometimes you are up on a three- to four-foot aluminum horse when you’re getting ready to blast and it could blow you off. So you learn ways to make sure you’re not blown off. I had to learn this stuff the hard way.
It’s a lot of physical strength so I had to struggle in that area. These guys here automatically have that strength…I got the mental strength but not so strong, I had to work up to it. Probably the first month I was at home almost in tears…your body hurts in EVERY place it could.
But once you get it, it gets easier you know…you stop fighting the job, you learn to do stuff that works WITH you. Like I said you brace yourself or you’re even using the line itself up against something to blast because, with all that pressure, it’s difficult to control. But it’s awesome. You work really hard and when you are done you are exhausted but you know you feel like you earned you day.
This is my first job being in a union. This has been a huge change to me altogether, prior to this in aviation I was a contractor, so it’s completely different. As far as benefits I had to do all that on my own. So it’s nice to know that you have the union to back you up when and if I ever need them. The benefits are great, I love my job here.
I like blasting, it’s been a good experience and you’re proud of yourself when you are done at the end of the night…EXHAUSTED but you feel like you did your job. AND you’re working …and in blast it’s different than any other department. You’re working next to guys who are sweating the same time as you are because it can get 115/120 degrees inside the full hood. They’re working as hard as you are, they are going to help you out whether you are a girl…they do the same thing for the other guys. They’re a family, they’ve got each other’s backs.
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.