AFSCME members keep food on tables across Pennsylvania
Recent events have presented a host of unprecedented and unique circumstances. Many of us have had to make the best of a bad situation, including AFSCME members.
Many Commonwealth employees were forced to stay home due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, given the option to take their own paid leave time or file for Unemployment Compensation while maintaining their health benefits in order to avoid a full blown furlough.
As this situation developed, the demand on Pennsylvania’s food banks drastically increased. That is where AFSCME members stepped in.
Instead of sitting at home, some Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) employees took the opportunity to work in the food banks while earning their regular rate of pay, which allowed them to avoid having to use much of their leave time while still providing a public service. It also provided a safe work environment with adequate safety supplies and room for social distancing.
“It is being of service and being useful and that’s always a happy feeling,” said AFSCME Local 2534 (Transportation & Safety Building Clericals) member Ginger Binkley.
“You’re helping the less fortunate. It’s better than sitting at home.”
Ginger worked at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank in Harrisburg. Thanks to the PennDOT employees’ help, they were able to pack about 50 skids per day.
And it was not just our PennDOT sisters and brothers taking part in this effort. Department of Agriculture employees and Local 2162 (Dauphin County Trades and Labor) members Jason Obenstine and Seth Waters helped by rounding up the large amount of cardboard and trash that was produced by the Food Bank, as well as unloading supply trucks from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).
Jason said this has been a chance to do work that he doesn’t normally get to do and best of all, “keeps me from getting furloughed.”
Seth said he never really thought about himself as working on the “front lines” until now and that he’s “just doing his job.”
“It’s just weird working during this time in general.”
PennDOT employees have been working in food banks all over the commonwealth. Steve Jedrejczyk, who sometimes volunteers at food banks on his own time, is Vice President of AFSCME Local 2160 (Northampton County Trades & Labor) and has been working in a food bank in Northampton County for the last couple of weeks.
“It’s an eye opener,” Steve said.
“You wouldn’t think that many people are in need. It’s just amazing how much product goes out that door and that’s just a little one. It kind of chokes you up to see. You go home to your family and know you’ll have food on your table, and the next morning you’re packing food for someone who can’t afford it.”
PennDOT employees bring a set of skills that is surprisingly useful in a food bank. On top of being hard workers, their ability to run heavy equipment comes in handy. Steve said they are able to run pallet jacks and use the cardboard compactor, whereas usual food bank volunteers are not always able to.
“They’re really ecstatic that we’re there,” Steve said.
As PennDOT employees prepare to return to paving roads, fixing potholes, and cleaning highways and bridges, many of them do so with their leave time intact and the knowledge that they helped those who need it most during their own difficult time.
In addition to the sisters and brothers mentioned in this article, members from the following local unions took part in this remarkable effort: Local 2132 (BERKS COUNTY TRADES & LABOR), Local 1981 (INSPECTORS NON-PROFESSIONAL – DISTRICT 8), Local 2248 (STATE SUPERVISORY EMPLOYEES – DISTRICT 11), Local 1986 (INSPECTORS NON-PROFESSIONAL – DISTRICT 12), Local 1985 (INSPECTORS NON-PROFESSIONAL – DISTRICT 11), Local 1982 (INSPECTOR NON-PROFESSIONAL – DISTRICT 9), Local 2107 (ALLEGHENY COUNTY TRADES & LABOR – DISTRICT 11), Local 2249 (STATE SUPERVISORY EMPLOYEES – DISTRICT 12), Local 2370 (STATE SUPERVISORY – DISTRICT 4), Local 2143 (LUZERNE COUNTY TRADES & LABOR), Local 2142 (WYOMING COUNTY TRADES & LABOR), Local 2244 (STATE SUPERVISORY – DISTRICT 5 & 6), Local 1979 (INSPECTORS NON-PROFESSIONAL – DISTRICT 5), Local 2149 (LEHIGH COUNTY TRADES & LABOR), Local 2245 (STATE SUPERVISORY – DISTRICT 8), Local 2110 (WESTMORELAND COUNTY TRADES & LABOR), Local 2163 (YORK COUNTY TRADES & LABOR), Local 2100 (ERIE COUNTY TRADES AND LABOR), Local 1975 (INSPECTORS NON- PROFESSIONAL – DISTRICT 1), Local 2367 (STATE SUPERVISORY – DISTRICT 1), Local 3033 (DAUPHIN COUNTY PENNDOT), Local 2162 (DAUPHIN COUNTY TRADES AND LABOR), Local 2456 (STATE PROFESSIONAL – DISTRICT 8), and Local 2527 (LABOR & INDUSTRY BUILDING CLERICALS).