The Privilege To Serve

My mother always told me I should become a lawyer because I like to argue. I prefer the terms debate, negotiate, persuade, or convince. It’s not necessarily arguing, but presenting factual arguments in order to achieve a desired outcome.  While my life path didn’t lead me to law school, I have been given the opportunity to take my mom’s advice, without the degree, decades of student-loan debt, and high-paying salary.

For the first 9 years of my IRS career, I never gave NTEU a second thought. During that time, the relationship between management and their employees, including myself, was one of compromise, assistance, understanding, fairness, and “family-friendly”ness. That was one of the best perks of working here. Managers understood the concept of “work/life balance.”  In most cases, management worked positively with employees when addressing work/life issues, by discussing reasonable options, making helpful suggestions, and offering needed support. Once upon a time, front-line managers had their employee’s backs, pleading to upper management on their behalf, when necessary.  Their first reaction used to be to help their employees, even when ordered to harm them. They’d at least give their employees- who were obviously already struggling in some facet of their lives- a fighting chance, by making the decisions on issues that front-line managers are contractually permitted to make, without consulting upper management on EVERYTHING (whom often instructed them to harm rather than help the employee).  This meant that front-line managers would now have to actively defy their boss, putting their own jobs on the line, if they went against what their boss do.  Upper management sees the employees the same way they see equipment, faceless furniture.  Front-line managers, who observed their employees daily, used to make these types of decisions while taking personal circumstance into consideration, often displaying a semblance of empathy.  Once upon a time, this was the reality in most situations.

My own experiences with management were positive.  I worked hard in each job, often becoming an OJI or Classroom Instructor, volunteering for committees and special projects, and acting as lead/manager.  I had good relationships with my managers. They recognized my potential and appreciated my hard work, and rewarded it by being understanding and supportive during times of work/life unbalance.  These interactions and experiences with management resulted in high morale and personal pride.  I enjoyed my job.  More importantly, I respected and trusted management.  They played by the rules, so I saw no need to join NTEU.

In recent years, management has gone rogue. Maybe it’s “pay for performance,” otherwise known as pay banding, which encourages politicized behavior. The knee-jerk reaction for any situation is to harm the employee, often in violation of the National Agreement.  The term “managerial discretion” automatically meant “No,” and “case-by-case basis” became obsolete.  Managers discarded empathy and understanding.  They no longer offered reasonable solutions, helpful suggestions, or needed support.  Instead, they often found themselves crossing their fingers that the employee they harmed would continue to take the abuse, so as not to make waves.  Employees who did choose to make waves, those who dared to question management by filing a grievance, were answered with retaliation- whether they were the employee, the steward, or both- in order to evoke fear and stifle any future wave-making.  These employees are made “examples of” in their work areas, a warning to their coworkers.  After all, management controls their work, their leave, their appraisal, their job.  Control equals power, and power can be abused.  When these abuses go unchecked, or in worst cases are actually allowed or ignored by the upper management chain, once “model-employees” are finding themselves in deep water.  Coworkers often sit silent, afraid to stick their own necks out by speaking out against management, which enables the abuses to continue. There are, however, employees who choose to serve as “life preservers” for coworkers being harmed by management, refusing to let their coworkers drown under questionable actions and decisions made by management, unafraid to make waves: Union Stewards.

My own personal experiences of managerial abuse (after many successful and wave-free years with the Service) it resulted in my realization that I needed NTEU73 membership. My skills at debate, negotiation and persuasion, combined with my refusal to sit idly by while my coworkers are being harmed, resulted in the realization that I wanted to serve as an NTEU73 steward. It is an honor and privilege to serve as a Union Steward.


Sarah Corea