The following are testimonials from AFGE Local 17 members.
I am an attorney for BVA and had been terminated due to Board management’s anticipation that I would fail my annual performance goal. As a result of Calanit Kedem’s representation, I was reinstated with back pay. Her knowledge and advocacy made all the difference in my case.
JR Cummings is an advocate and litigator with phenomenal communication skills. I am an attorney at BVA who was denied promotion to GS-14. JR not only possessed an excellent grasp of the unique facts and data associated with my case, but he was also able to present facts and data (i.e., spreadsheets, etc.) in a compelling, agile and persuasive fashion—while at the same time, maintaining cordiality and professionalism with everyone involved. JR also was always frank and responsive to any concerns I might have about my case, tailoring evidence in a way that addressed those concerns. Ultimately, my promotion was granted—with back pay. I am very, very grateful for JR’s zealous advocacy!
Our team reviews Veteran-owned and Service-Disabled Veteran-owned Small Businesses’ (VOSBs/SDVOSBs) ownership and control to ensure they qualify for contracts set-aside for both categories at VA. Based upon the 2021 NDAA, our office was mandated to move from VA to SBA no later than 1/1/2023. Although there was a 2-year advance notice of this requirement, there was very little action taken until the last 6-7 months. It was difficult to get any concrete answers from anyone regarding this move. It is not a very common process to move a whole segment from one agency to another, and the lack or organization and coordination was evidence of that. As we were part of the AFGE Bargaining Unit, some of us reached out to the local AFGE 17 Team and connected with JR Cummings and Denise Adams Hill for support and guidance.
Initially, only the functions of our team were going to be moved to SBA. This meant that the staff would be facing a RIF action. JR and Denise became engaged at this stage, to help us all understand the ramifications and our rights, and to support us in our interactions with management. After about 10 months of expecting RIF actions, we were told that there was a change, and the staff would also be moving to SBA, along with our program.
JR and Denise attended bi-weekly meetings between the two agencies over the last 6 + months to ensure that the staff’s rights were protected in the upcoming transfers. Their knowledge of employee protections was extremely important in these meetings. They helped us manage our expectations and gave us a foundation upon which to lean.
JR and Denise were very helpful in this unusual, mandated transfer. I really appreciate them taking the time to be a voice for us with our leadership. I felt more anchored, knowing they were there to support us. Thank you, JR and Denise!
I am an administrative professional at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. My life was turned upside down when I received a proposed 5-day suspension based on a misunderstanding about my telework agreement and another employee reporting some untruthful and distasteful information about an interaction between the other employee and me. A 5-day suspension would have caused a permanent entry into my personnel file, financial loss, and humiliation. I didn’t realize until many months later that management went to the effort of interviewing the other employee at length about the supposed interaction and accepted the other employee’s statement even though it was admitted that there were no witnesses.
More than eight months after the misunderstanding about the telework agreement and four months after the untruthful information was provided to management, this proposed suspension was sent to me. I was in a state of shock, however, I spoke with steward Denise Adams Hill, and she obtained management’s file and clarified every detail of the circumstances with me. Although I was preparing myself to accept this discipline, she prepared a written response and she and steward Benton Komins represented me during a meeting in which I was permitted to respond directly to the allegations. The outcome was a written admonishment is not formal discipline that will be retained in my personnel file.
I am beyond relieved to not have these issues go against my reputation at the Board and to have been spared a week’s suspension without pay. I am very grateful to have had Denise Adams Hill working with me, along with Benton Komins, as I felt supported through the process and am sure that the outcome would have been different without their help.
Our entire team provided all levels of Veteran’s care through the VA Nationwide Telecommunication Services (VANTS) for over 30 years before it was disbanned due to Teams. In 2019, we first began hearing rumors that VANTS was being dissolved in the near future, resulting in a RIF [reduction in force]. We expressed these concerns to the local AFGE 17 team. At that time, Doug Massey (local president) assigned Marla Woodarek (union steward) to investigate the matter. Marla immediately began a campaign to ensure we would not face a RIF. After management officials refused to respond to our team and the Union, Marla filed a grievance and proceeded to arbitration. Once management realized that they were no match for Marla’s tenacity, they settled the grievance and we began transitioning to an entirely new position. And after we voiced concerns that the work was more difficult, Marla got us an across-the-board grade increase for our entire team. Marla also got us more telework, which was icing on the cake. We would like to express extreme gratitude to Marla’s hard work and determination over a two year transition. Her work-ethic is impeccable and relentless. We also recognize the amount of time Marla dedicated to a group of individuals she had never met but treated as her own family. We definitely owe our current status and employment to her passion of representing AFGE bargaining employees.
Sherry Riley, Richard Starliper, Aaron Kilmer, Billy Moores, Mike Park and Andrew Pond
I would like to share my fond appreciation for Calanit Kadem, my AFGE union representative who has worked tirelessly for over 5 years advocating for me. During my employment at VA OSDBU I have experienced countless incidents of stressful and unfair treatment. She has been extremely instrumental in supporting me verbally, in writing, or just her quiet but strong presence. She saved me from being fired from my job and represented me with a win in an EEOC settlement against VA OSDBU. I could not have been successful without her impeccable attention to detail and fighting for justice on my behalf as well as many others.
I’m the beginning, I did not know how things would transpire. However, getting representation from the Union (Local 17), was one of the best decisions I made. Not only did they handle my cases with precision and tact, they treated me like I was the only client they had. They were aggressive and they didn’t back down to management, I loved every bit of it. I’m forever grateful for them.
I am incredibly grateful for the service I received from AFGE Local 17. During a difficult time I had to call on the Union to assist me with a proposed suspension. I never thought I would be in position where I would have to call the Union for help. They came through going above and beyond. Union Steward Mr. Willie Rouse never gave up on the fight for me, and Mr. Stephen Eckerman stepped in and took my case to arbitration. My suspension was rescinded and replaced with a reprimand. Management, being sore losers, appealed that decision to the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Mr. Eckerman filed a legal brief and won AGAIN! Thank you!
I am a decision writing attorney at the Board of Veterans Appeals. I found myself in a very difficult, unproductive, and miserable work situation. Dr. Komins helped me through this trial, and ensured the best possible outcome. I am very grateful to Dr. Komins for his passionate, thoughtful, and brilliant work. I realize that Dr. Komins has many Board of Veterans appeals clients at any given time, yet he contacted me regularly and I felt prioritized as a client. Having an experienced representative on my side ensured that the governing laws and rules worked in my favor. If it weren’t for Dr. Komins’ analytical skills and knowledge, the matter would not have been settled so quickly with such a favorable result. Dr. Komins’ professionalism went far beyond my expectations throughout the course of my case. At every juncture, he advised me of the best option to take in resolving my case. I would like to thank Dr. Komins for spending a great deal of time and effort on my case. Dr. Komins’ wide range of expertise and institutional knowledge were indispensable and he graciously continues to offer me professional assistance and support. Thank you to Dr. Komins and the Union for all of your guidance and assistance.
Thank you also Doug Massey for all of your work and for setting the bar so high.
For FY2020 Performance Appraisal, I received a Fully Successful rating. Due to COVID-19, Veterans Affairs Central Office had closed and my division was placed on Weather and Safety Leave. Unfortunately, my performance rating was affected and lowered because I was unable to perform my job duties within the building. I disagreed with my performance rating and I refused to sign. Not only was this unfair but unethical. This was a worldly pandemic and it is was no fault of my own that we were directed not to report to work.
I reached out to Mr. Douglas Massey, President of AFGE Local 17, to plead my case. He filed a grievance on my behalf and asked Union members to recommend sending my case to arbitration. Union members voted and agreed to move my case forward. Ms. Marla Woodarek and Ms. Megan-Brady ‘MB’ Viccellio, walked me through the process. I provided emails and documents for my case. They kept me informed at all times and even answered any questions that I had.
Unfortunately, there were many excuses and delays caused by Management, Office of Labor Management Relations and the Office of the General Counsel, from requesting more time to prepare or stating that the paperwork was filed incorrectly, however, Marla and MB remained firm and professional at all times.
As my arbitration date was approaching, Management decided to retract my FY2020 performance rating from Fully Successful to Outstanding. I would like to thank Marla Woodarek and Megan-Brady ‘MB’ Viccellio for helping me fight my case. I certainly could not have done this on my own and I am so grateful that I had support from the union.
As a proud union member, I wanted to offer a testimonial regarding the support I received from Calanit Kedem several years ago. I was going through a difficult personal situation and was not supported by my supervisor at the time. Ultimately, I required assistance from Ms. Kedem in order to maintain my position. Ms. Kedem was honest, open, and forthright and advised me on how to proceed so that I could remain employed. Ms. Kedem used her expertise in communicating with management and writing a brief to support my position. Ultimately, I was retained, and I owe it to the assistance I received from the Union, and Ms. Kedem specifically. I appreciate the organized and united front that the Union puts forth to support Board employees and I recommend Union membership to all eligible employees.
(AFGE/Doug/Mr. Massey) helped me greatly when I was given an illegal order and refused to follow it. I was notified of a personnel action against me and our local HR was no help and sided with the supervisor. (AFGE/Doug/Mr. Massey) was able to get the personnel action against me dropped and the order rescinded for me and the other staff members that it affected. Without the help I received I would have the action on my record and the supervisor would have gotten away with anything he wanted to do in this situation even though it was against the law. I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out for help at any time.
I am a Paralegal Specialist at Department of Veteran Affairs. During the time of Covid-19, I found myself in a situation with my daughter that was completely out of my control. I was looking for a reasonable accommodation that would allow me to telework full-time in order to meet strict doctor’s orders for my daughter. I reached out to AFGE Local 17 union for guidance concerning my situation and I was immediately connected to one of the top-notch representatives in the person of Mr. JR Cummings. Mr. Cummings immediately started gathering background information regarding my situation. With continuous negative encounters from management, Mr. Cummings was able to draft a well written and knowledgeable memorandum that detailed facts about teleworking, and the broad extension of the policy for federal workers according to the “Master Agreement.” Mr. Cummings didn’t hesitate to follow up with my supervisor and management on their actions to grant full-time telework. Even though management was stalling with their decision, Mr. Cummings was able to get management to comply with the policy to use their “broad discretion” in granting me full-time telework. Now my daughter’s doctor is well pleased that I am there for my daughter’s needs at school or if any medical issues arise. I want to thank Mr. Cummings for his hard work, and dedication in helping me resolve my situation. To my AFGE Local 17 union leadership, you all ROCK!
I am so relieved that I reached out to my union representatives. It was definitely a light at the end of a tunnel. I am still in the tunnel right now but there is definitely light as I go through it now. Mr. Cummings provided me the support and the right guidance when I feel that all the avenues I thought I was taking was right and I was hitting walls from all sides. The very moment I was informed that I am now BUE employee, I immediately reached out to my union representative, Ms. Vivian Bogue, who introduced me to Steward John Cummings, who immediately made contact with me to gather the facts and my side of the situation. He then informed me that he wanted to be present in the next meeting that the leadership have asked me to attend to discuss my situation. Mr. Cummings instead represented me and was involved in that conversation with my leadership who was adamant of releasing me from the VA despite my gaining command still awaiting for a document to be processed before they can bring me onboard. Mr. Cummings explained my predicament to the leadership and after that meeting, my release date was adjusted and in addition, my leadership became more receptive in working with me and my gaining command when it came to my release date. Thank you Mr. Cummings and many thanks to my local AFGE union!