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The work of public servants is all around us — from the bridges we drive over, to the parks we visit, to the online government assistance forms we fill out, to the people we call for unemployment help, and to the nurses at some of the top hospitals in the state.
The 48,000-plus members of the New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) encompass more than 3,000 professional, scientific and technical titles and it is their mission to protect, serve and care for New Yorkers.
During Public Employees Recognition Month, I am proud to honor that work. Every public servant and every PEF member deserves recognition. I would like to spotlight three who epitomize public and union service.
For 33 years, Bernadette O’Connor has passionately helped mental-health clients to meet treatment goals with an eye toward discharge back into their communities. She brings that same passion for New Yorkers to PEF’s Fund Our Future coalition of union and community leaders making the case for reshaping government in our public interest.
Bernadette serves as a Regional Coordinator and is committed to her members and her community. She believes public employees, as well-trained professionals, keep New York running and it is critical that people get involved in advocacy.
Since 2008, Scarlett Ahmed has worked to provide New Yorkers with employment services, assisting them with job searches and training opportunities, and helping them navigate the complicated unemployment insurance process as a labor services representative.
Scarlett’s role as a union leader positions her to advocate for increased funding for all our vital services and she has been an active participant in PEF’s Fund Our Future campaign. She believes public-sector employees are at the intersection of social justice and the labor movement, and that we all need to stand in solidarity with those fighting for fair treatment in the workplace.
George Fernandez started working at PEF as a field representative five years ago, after spending 12 years working with New York’s Access VR program, where he assisted individuals with disabilities achieve and maintain employment and supported their independent living.
Now, he helps PEF members navigate grievance, disciplinary and workers’ compensation issues, joins other unions fighting for fair contracts, and continues his advocacy for our most vulnerable communities and individuals on a statewide level. George believes public employees provide vital and essential services and unions are uniquely positioned to influence change to better those services with campaigns like Fund Our Future.
The turmoil of the pandemic shone a light on the value of public service. That value should not be forgotten as the spotlight moves on. Public employees are the backbone of our communities and deserve thanks every day, not just when times are difficult.
Wayne Spence is president of the New York State Public Employees Federation.
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