December 18, 2013

Rich Brinker, DYC, Colorado Springs

Rich Brinker – Security Officer I at Zebulon Pike facility, Dept. of Youth Corrections.     

rich-brinker-vertMy whole life has been dedicated towards helping young men and women who have violated the law. I’ve worked for 21 years for the state and was a security officer in nearly every building in the state. Zebulon Pike is a one-on-one facility for juveniles that have had serious problems in their life, including neglect and abuse. They’ve also abused others. Most are felony-charged residents so they’re here for usually at least 9 months.

We work very hard and in very unsafe conditions. It’s a high risk job, including mental stress. We counsel and support residents so they can get better and not be repeat offenders.  We make sure they get fed, they get showers, that they get their recreation and their education.

One great thing that you do here is to watch the ones that started out without anything, and all of a sudden they end up with a GED or a high school diploma. They would have never had it without being here. We want the best conditions to be able to help these kids.

Security is just what it sounds like – you’re overseeing situations and making sure that everyone around is safe.  You never leave until the job is done. We’re not like a private employer – it’s mandatory that you come to work and mandatory that someone replaces you when your shift is over or you don’t leave work.

We used to see pay increases and people would stay, but now people are leaving. I know friends who’ve been here for 13 years and they’re not staying here, and these people were good with kids. But without raises, and with the stress of the job, the state isn’t looked at anymore as great living. And you want to keep the people who know their jobs in a juvenile corrections facility.

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Robert Darko, DHS, Aurora

Robert Darko – Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at Fitzsimons Veterans’ Nursing Home

robert-darko-vertMost of residents I work with are disabled veterans. Most of them are from the Second World war and the Vietnam War.

I am their caregiver – I give them a shower, help them eat, dress them, brush their teeth. Mainly I help with the activities of daily living. I take good care of them and I also make sure that they understand they are part of this facility. I make them feel comfortable, like they are living in their own home and you make them feel like you are part of their family.

Loneliness is one of the major problems here. If you contact them and talk to them, they feel like they’re not alone and they have someone who cares for them. If you take good care of them, they bless you. When they say “God Bless You” it’s worth to me more than millions of dollars.

I’ve been a pastor about 27 years now, and it’s part of life that I exercise on the job, too. No one is perfect, it’s God who controls everything. So, being a Christian, you need to allow God to enter your life and then give that life to them.

You learn a lot here. You learn that one day, you’ll be the person who will need someone to come and help you, to rub your back for you. Someday you may be paralyzed and need someone to clean you and maybe you will not get it.

Our job is very tough. Sometimes, for four to five years, there is no increment but prices are going up: the gas is up, everything is up. That’s why some people have to get another job and that’s why we’re counting on the legislators to help us. Some places pay more than this, but I don’t go for the payment, I stay here because it’s one of the best facilities I’ve ever worked at in my life. I’ve been here for almost 9 years and I never call in, I always try to come to work because who’s going to help them if you don’t come?

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Mike Klein, DHS, Pueblo

Mike Klein – Therapy Assistant II, Pueblo Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled

mike-klein-vertI work in a day program work group for the developmentally disabled. The guys that I work with are developmentally disabled, and a couple of them are dually diagnosed. I’ve got five guys that are in my group and all my crew is basically non-verbal.

From Mondays to Wednesday, we recycle newspaper for the county. On Wednesday when we’re done we go bowling. We have lunch in the park on nice days. On Thursdays we stock vending machines and Friday is activity day.

As the Bible says, we’ll get judged by how we treat the least among us. I’m never going to get rich doing what I do, but I know that when I look back at what I did with my life I can say I enriched the lives of people that were developmentally disabled and I can feel good about that.

The one thing I try to do every day is enrich the lives of people that are developmentally disabled. I try to do that by following their programs, which is to teach them how to work and live in the community. I try to keep them safe and make sure that whatever we’re doing is safe – for example making sure they get their medication or making sure they don’t get hurt. I make sure they enjoy their lives and have a good time.

We deserve a raise because we’re highly trained, we’re constantly trying to upgrade our skills and trying to learn more about how to better serve people that are disabled. And if we’re still behind the pay grade, we should be paid up there with everybody else.

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LaDawn Stegman, CDLE, Colorado Springs

LaDawn Stegman – Auditor for Colorado Dept. of Labor and Employment (Colorado Springs)

ladawn-stegman-vertMy job as an auditor is to keep people honest and to detect employment fraud. This includes checking compliance for unemployment insurance law, and making sure that employers are following the law on their employees and not treating them as independent contractors. There’s about 35 auditors state wide, I work almost exclusively in the Colorado Springs area.

Most people don’t understand how much being an employee protects them. So, if an employee loses their job through no fault of their own they have that umbrella of unemployment insurance benefits to help sustain them until they can find another job. But you only get unemployment if you are properly classified as an employee in the first place – not improperly classified as an independent contractor.

And employees get much more protections than just unemployment: the law includes worker’s compensation, wage and hour guidelines, minimum wage, overtime, and OSHA protections. There are a lot of protections that go with being under covered employment, as opposed to being an independent contractor, and that’s what I go out and verify.

Our audits are almost all done at the employer’s place of business. We go out there because we also look for the type of operation they are to try to detect fraud. We want to make sure the business really exists, so we verify that, we look at their operations. For example, if you’re going into a very large building and they say they have 2 employees, something is going to seem not right to you as an auditor.

I try to be a fair auditor. I listen to the employers as they tell me how their business operation is handled, however I do apply the law and I do think I apply it consistently.

One thing that I really see in the audit section is the brain drain, because the pay has not kept pace with the private sector. There are very few auditors that have a lot of experience. To be an auditor is a very long learning curve, seven or eight years, and then to have that experience and knowledge of the law stolen away from the state by the private sector, you’re losing good workers. I’ve been here for six and a half years and I’m already one of the more senior auditors.

We definitely deserve a raise. Some auditors do have second jobs, they have student loans and they need that second job to pay their student loans. The kind of student loans you come out with for an accounting degree or a finance degree, it’s hard to make those payments and live, also.

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Angelo Penny, DYC, Colorado Springs

Angelo Penny – Security Officer I Zebulon Pike, Dept. of Youth Corrections

angelo-penny-vertWhen I left Department of Corrections to come down to Youth Corrections, some of the inmates told me “Talk to those kids, get in their head before they get into here, ’cause this ain’t no joke. You can help them out.” And this is coming from the adult offenders.

If I can help one kid stay out of the institution then I feel like I’m doing my job. With the recidivism rate, we keep getting the same repeat offenders. But when I hear the good story, that’s when I think “Wow, my voice and guys’ around me, their voices are actually acknowledged” and that’s when I feel good and that I’ve done my job.

Some kids call us back and tell us their progression. There was one kid out of Manitou, who’s now a top chef at one of the 5 star restaurants there. He called me and invited me to come and eat dinner there, just to see what he’s doing. And he’s been gone almost 5 years now. When you hear stuff like that and you see this kid in the paper, getting awards from Pike’s Peak Community College because he was top of his culinary class, those are the things I can tell somebody coming in here.

When I do intakes, I tell the kids “You want to leave here better than when you came. You don’t want to start back at square one because you didn’t self-improve, because then you just wasted the state money and your own time. Get out of here, get an education, gobble up some college classes, seek employment. Do what you’ve got to do while you’re here because they allow it here.”

We spend majority of our 8-hour shift with the kids at all times. None of the staff take these jobs because they’re afraid of the kids or want to hurt them. They’re here to help them. So if you allow us to help you, to give you the tools, once you get back in the community you can use that toolbox to help you with this situation or that.

If you came in here and saw what we do on a day to day basis, you’d see how much more we’re responsible for, without pay increases. I’ve been with the state since 2004 and I hadn’t seen a pay increase until last year. You have to keep people and give them incentive to want to stay and pay raises are one way to do that. You see inflation going up and you say “Wow, everything is going up but my pay.” Some people have taken on outside jobs just to supplement their income.

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Shelly Marquez, DHS, Denver

Shelly Marquez, Accounting for the Office of Children, Youth and Family – Domestic Violence Program

shelly-marquez-vertWe help fund the Domestic Violence shelters and crisis centers throughout the state of Colorado. The programs vary, but we have shelters for women and children mainly.

I deal with the programs directly. I help fund programs, and if they don’t meet the requirements, like their goals and objectives, we help them get technical assistance. We help them, because they help people and there’s a lot of domestic violence issues out there.

I have developed that good relationship with them because you know what, I’m human, just because we’re funders doesn’t mean that we’re a dictator. I’m on your same level, I have a job just like you do. It’s really nice to know that they perceive me as a friendly person out there to help them.

Our program is very small – we have 4 staff members and our director just retired. I can honestly tell you that our program works 100% – we are so small and there’s just so much to do. Outreach, collaborating with the CCADV – Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  We try to collaborate with them and other programs so that we can make domestic violence resources more accessible to the victims.

Our program is statewide so we have some [DV shelters] in remote areas. There’s some in Denver, there’s some on the outskirts, some throughout the state. Right now the grants come from the federal government. It’s a very emotional time because we wish we could give the programs more money, but we get what we get from the feds.

We have not had a raise for quite some time, and we need one because we work hard. I’ve worked for the state for about 13 years total.  I have a spouse that works as a maintenance worker for CDOT. They didn’t get that much of a raise either. I actually have two more jobs, two part time jobs. One of them is really part time and the other one is something that I do on the side to supplement my income.

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Andrés Guerrero, CDPHE, Denver

Andrés Guerrero – Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinator at Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment

andres-guerrero-vertI’m one of the five people working in the Viral Hepatitis Program to prevent the spread of viral hepatitis within Colorado. Hepatitis C has been responsible for more deaths in the US than HIV since 2009 and every year more people are dying from this treatable and preventable disease.

The one thing I would want everyone to know about what public health is that if everything is going well, you’re not going to hear about what we’re doing. When you look at everything that we do, it’s a lot – everything from food safety, disease outbreak investigation, vaccinations, air and water quality, and many more areas. It’s almost like you’re a disease detective, trying to figure out where this stuff is coming from and how we can stop it. I think many people don’t think about public health or understand why it’s important until something goes very wrong, like the listeria outbreak we had in 2011.

We have about 20 testing sites around the state that I manage. Those are testing for Hepatitis C specifically and it’s open to folks who are considered to be high risk at no cost to them, so they can go in, get tested and find out if they are antibody positive. In the viral hepatitis program we also have two case managers that work with pregnant moms who have hepatitis B. They work with the moms and their healthcare workers to ensure that the Hepatitis B is not spread to the newborn.

I also manage a contract where a community partner will deliver healthcare provider education around the state. We have another education contract that’s working specifically with prevention professionals. Those are folks that work at service organizations and substance abuse sites. Both of these contracts raise awareness of viral hepatitis within the medical provider community and with prevention workers around the state. That way they know who should be referred to testing and how they can counsel someone so they won’t spread the infections.

I spend most of my time in the office but I do get to go out into the field to do site visits with the contractors, most often with the testing sites, and I do enjoy that part of my job. It is rewarding to see how my work directly impacts my community. Sometimes I get calls from members of the public who are scared and confused after testing positive for hepatitis C. Most of the time, their fear is based on misinformation that they read online or got from an uninformed friend. The most rewarding part of my job is when I am able to put someone’s mind at ease by letting them know that while hepatitis can be serious it is manageable. More than any other part of my job, I enjoy helping people get the information they need to make the best decisions they can regarding their health.

A lot of people at the state health department put in more than 40 hours per week. They work very hard and I think they really care about what they’re doing. People don’t come into these positions in public health unless it’s really their passion and they feel strongly about protecting the health of the public. The fact that there’s so few of us who choose to do this work means that we work very hard. It would be nice to feel like that’s appreciated.

I think we’ve lost some good people, specifically here at the state Health Department. That raise that we got last year was very welcome, but we hadn’t gotten anything for years before that. I think after a while, people get a little frustrated. The thing that I worry about is that if the wages are not competitive enough that we won’t be able to attract quality people into this important work.

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Press Release: CSU-Pueblo workers calling on University to work with them to avoid personnel cuts

Colorado WINS member and CSU Pueblo employee Tamra Axworthy gave the following statement regarding the proposed layoffs at CSU-Pueblo:

“As a Colorado WINS member, I know how state employees contribute to the Southern Colorado economy. Across the board cuts hurt them, their families, and will have a ripple effect throughout Pueblo and Southern Colorado. I understand that my job could be at risk.

Before we apply such drastic measures, at such an impactful time of year, we should look at other options, many of which have already been identified. The University Budget Board has data and resources available to continue working towards that end. As employees, we are willing to listen and come together on a solution that doesn’t hurt families and our local economy.

As employees, we’re calling on our State Senator and State Representative to work with us and avoid these layoffs.”

Due to cuts, CSU-Pueblo has announced that it must cut $3.3 million from its budget, which could result in a loss of up to 50 positions. (more…)

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