by Michael Byrne | March 11, 2016
This article was first published in the Winter 2016 edition of AFSCME Works. Click here to download the full magazine.
Shawn Ost, a school bus driver in Chillicothe, Ohio, echoes the commitment to public service that other AFSCME members share when he says about the students he ferries to and from school, “I’ve got two grown kids I’d give my right arm for, even give my life, and I feel the same way about the kids on my bus.”
Ost, a member of AFSCME’s Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) was recently honored by the Chillicothe School Board for preventing two schoolchildren — a 5th grader and a 10th grader — from walking into a burglary in progress at their home. He not only locked down the bus, but he also got 911 on the line to report the burglary and turned the kids on the bus into detectives.
“I told the kids, ‘pull your cell phones out. If you can take a video or a photo, do it,’” he told a Columbus TV station. Ost also instructed them to get out their notepads and write down descriptions of the burglars, who were loading the goods into a white van.
Armed with the photos and written descriptions provided by the kids, the police quickly arrested the suspects — within minutes, Ost said. “I wasn’t going to let those kids walk in on a burglary. It was a dangerous situation.”
How Our Work Matters
The OAPSE bus driver’s heroism is exceptional, but it is par for the course for AFSCME members dedicated to our communities and our clients. What puts these everyday heroes in the right place at the right time is a personal determination to improve our communities, delivering the best possible service.
From police and corrections officers, to school cafeteria workers and school nurses, from mechanical engineers and medical technicians, to home care workers and doctors, from parks and recreation workers, to custodians and sewer repair technicians, it really is the work that matters. We are committed to serving our communities with pride and dedication.
Just a few months before Shawn Ost’s heroism in Ohio, a school bus driver and bus attendant didn’t hesitate as they rushed in to save a 5-year-old girl being attacked by a wild pit bull in Bayonne, New Jersey.
In honoring driver Bill Farrington and attendant Damien Washington, members of Local 2251 (Council 52), the Bayonne school administrator told the school board they “risked their lives to rescue a child from the jaws of a wild dog,” according to The Jersey Journal. The girl was treated at a local hospital and released the same day.
Jobs That Are More than Jobs
And in Merced, California, two sanitation workers on their morning rounds responded to the faint sounds of, “Help me, help me,” climbing over a fence and rescuing an elderly woman who fell in her backyard. David Soto and Mike Schlessinger — members of Local 2703 (Council 57) — were just in the nick of time. The 88-year-old woman had been unable to move for nearly 24 hours, lying next to a running water hose that soaked her.
The two longtime Merced city employees, who received a standing ovation at a City Council meeting, said they were just in the right place at the right time, and their actions really weren’t a big deal. “We were just doing what anybody would do,” Schlessinger was quoted as saying in the Merced Sun-Star.
It’s the same for AFSCME members all across America no matter what our jobs are. In fact, it’s not just a job. For us, it’s a calling. “You have to love this job to do it,” said Michelle Wise, a United Domestic Workers member and home care worker in San Diego, California. “You have to care about people to work at these wages.”
Nobody does this work to get rich, although we know we can join together in our union to improve our pay and benefits. In the case of home care workers, AFSCME has been working with the federal government and in the courts to raise wages and standards.
The Power of Coming Together
The power of co-workers coming together is why Darryl Lamar joined Local 1279 (AFSCME Florida) when he became a code compliance officer for the City of Jacksonville, Florida. With contract negotiations coming up with the city, he then got busy signing up other members, too. “Nothing is going to change until you join,” Lamar said.
This same determined spirit to never quit on our jobs and on our co-workers is what led California paramedic Jared Kirby, Local 4911 (Council 57), to travel to Ohio to help a group of EMTs join with AFSCME.
“Our union is our voice,” Kirby said. “And that’s how we fight for the betterment of EMS as a whole and make it a respected public safety profession. We’re going to keep pushing until every EMS worker is well-rested, well-equipped and well-trained to provide the best patient care possible.”
That’s how we win better lives for ourselves, our families and our communities — by joining together. For people proudly committed to the public service that makes America work, we never quit.
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