An In-Depth Summer Fellowship Report
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Posted by: Yary Lim, '09
There are days that are dispiriting and others that seem to uplift. Perhaps those heights are enough to curl the corners of your mouth in a satisfying smile. And such days are rare here at AFGE Local 12. But, when there is reason to celebrate, it is an accomplishment that gives one the will to continue to fight the good fight and doggedly work for workers. Federal employment law is not the most glamorous field of law, but it is intimate in that this type of work affects each and every aspect of life. To some, such work is life. It is disheartening to those dreamers out there, but work undoubtedly sustains us all. When that privilege and right to humanely work is stripped away, life can be left in shambles.
I have come to that realization as every story, every face that worked at for the Department of Labor in some capacity was the same—someone was hired and just as easily fired. Some can bounce back, but when a termination leads to a rearranged life, that once golden opportunity grows burdensome. Working for the government should not be this way, but unfortunately it can be. Union workers have to fight for everything—management often demands efficiency and work productivity but facilitates such goals in ways so ineffective that it disrespects workers.
Upon arrival at the Department of Labor, I was unaware of the many acronyms that plague the federal government. MSHA, OSHA, OASAM, ETA, ESA, BLS are some that come to mind—the ones I’ve used just in the past 24 hours. Such is the governmental vernacular, the most efficient use of human breath.
On a regular basis, those lists of letters were used to describe situations where federal employees at the Department of Labor faced some sort of workplace wrongdoing. As a result, there are several grievances to consider when employees have viable complaints against came later. The case was a Step-2 grievance involving an old contract with a statute of limitations problem as well as a discriminatory hiring process at MSHA. I was told to prepare for arbitration. It is noteworthy to say that I had no idea about employment law or the way a union works. I was lost and overwhelmed the first day, but a few hornbooks and some handy advice from nearby attorneys got me through the day. As research commenced, I wrote articles for the Local 12 newsletter as well as participated on the union’s rally against A-76, a bill that discriminates against federal employees who are minorities over 40 years of age by contracting out to private companies. As my case closed, I worked on training stewards about a research tool called CYBERFEDS.org, something comparable to Westlaw and Lexis, just a cheaper version tailored to issues involving labor.
I worked on an EEO filing where a federal employee was terminated and discriminated against at the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. I conducted a client-interview by myself and de-briefed the supervising attorney, Eleanor Lauderdale. The purpose of the interview was to determine whether the complaint was viable and if the client was willing to commit to filing a formal complaint. The investigatory stage would commence long after I leave AFGE Local 12, but the research in filing this time-pressing complaint is exhaustive. I am in the process of compiling facts and finding case law relevant to the improper removal of a federal employee. This client was discriminated against and suffered a great deal of economic loss. It is heart-wrenching to hear such "horror” stories in the workplace, a result of a stressful government management style—these legal conclusions are a reality—they affect real people.
I have drafted legal memoranda, articles, and participated in several events at Local 12. I am also involved in the daily meetings about A-76 and much of my legal research is about contracting out. I have enjoyed my time and busy hours at the Department of Labor, despite the stressful nature of arbitration and the tug-of-war between DOL management and its workers. If this push-and-pull happens right under the government’s nose, what of the many places elsewhere and abroad where a grievance procedure is nonexistent? The realization is staggering and the question itself is shocking.
Towards the end of my time at AFGE-Local 12, I continued to follow up with the EEO case, but it will not be resolved until a few years later. I also worked on a case that involved first amendment issues and work place fairness. All the while, I researched several cases for poignant vocabulary on the termination of probationary employees. It was surprising to know how very little privilege we have as probationary employees and how management could abuse an employee.
All in all, I have learned so much from my time at AFGE Local 12. The staff and executive board of Local 12 made it a wonderful experience. The expertise and sharpness of the Local 12 lawyers made my internship an apprenticeship, and all the more rich and worthwhile. The giving nature of the staff allowed me to learn, in depth, the law and the intricacies of the Department of Labor without the fear of asking questions, simple or complex.
Although I will not continue working at Local 12, I highly recommend those interested in employment discrimination, ageny, and administrative law to dive right in and learn from the best of the best - those who work to expand the rights of workers in America.