‘AFSCME Saved My Career’

James McGee has always been happy to pay his AFSCME dues because, much like participating in the electoral process, “if you are not participating then you are letting others control your future.” Late last year, McGee learned more about the value of his union when he turned to AFSCME Local 3030 to actually fight for his job.

After five years working at the Florida Department of Children and Family’s North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center, McGee has built a career working directly with residents as they navigate the criminal justice and mental health systems on their way to happy and productive futures. Sometimes he’s had to deal with violent residents, but he always had been able to defuse or contain the situation.

But on Dec. 20, 2015, a new resident was admitted. Due to this minor’s potential for trouble, staff had to maintain a close watch. In fact, they could never be more than an arm’s length away. Somehow the resident managed to back McGee into a corner and started physically assaulting him. McGee punched back to protect himself until security arrived.

Once he was medically cleared, two days later, McGee was ready to return to work. Instead, he received notice that he was going to be fired.

McGee turned to the AFSCME state council’s staff representative in Gainesville, Cecil Copelin, the same person who had signed McGee up to the union five years earlier.

“Cecil was a lifesaver for me, plain and simple,” said McGee. “I was clueless what to do. The facility wasn’t telling me anything and he walked me through what my options were, what could happen every step of the way and how to fight for my future instead of wallowing in the present.”

Together they demonstrated that McGee’s actions were necessary to protect not just himself but also to ensure the resident didn’t harm himself. Not only is McGee’s career back on track, but the facility’s staff also will get a refresher Mandt training to ensure everyone is educated on the latest best practices for handling dangerous situations, such as the one McGee faced.

“With the support of my union I got through it,” said McGee. “Now I am sharing my story with my co-workers, especially new employees, so they can understand that you never know what is going to happen to you. So look at those dues for what they are – an investment you are making in yourself."