order non hybrid seeds LandRightsNFarming: Response to Chief Tidwell's September 30, 2014 Email

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Response to Chief Tidwell's September 30, 2014 Email

From: LawrLCL@aol.com
Date: Fri, 3 Oct 2014 21:08:59 -0400
Subject: Fwd: Response to Chief Tidwell's September 30, 2014 Email
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From: lesa@snowcrest.net
Sent: 10/3/2014 2:45:25 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time
Subj: Response to Chief Tidwell's September 30, 2014 Email

USDA, Forest Service

Attn: Thomas L. Tidwell, Chief

1400 Independence Avenue, SW                                               

Washington, DC  20250


October 3, 2014




Dear Chief Tidwell –


I received your September 30, 2014 email to all Forest Service employees entitled, "Chief's Message – 2014 Message on Sexual Harassment." Numerous employees forwarded it to me with various comments – none were positive. You admit that your letter was generated due to the Region 5 Female Firefighter Class (FFC) articles in the New York Times and High Country News. Those were two of multiple stories that have been done about the unequal treatment and abuse of women in the Forest Service. As you know, there have also been radio and television interviews. I am writing you this letter to respond to your claim that, employees' "safety and welfare are of utmost importance" to you and leaders across the Agency. Many employees, citizens, human rights groups and political officials do not believe this to be true. You and Agency leaders' actions (and inactions) belie this statement. By this letter I will provide examples that substantiate our belief.


To be clear, your email mainly addresses issues in Region 5, and my response will as well. While Region 5 is at the forefront of complaints about civil rights violations, it is important to note that these civil rights abuses are occurring throughout the Forest Service and USDA, including the offices of Human Resource Management at Albuquerque Service Center (ASC) and the USDA Office of Civil Rights.


In your September 30, 2014 email you state that the Forest Service takes all complaints or allegations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior in the workplace very seriously. In actuality, you and your leaders take a haphazard and disparate approach to reports of misconduct and inappropriate behavior.  In the recent past we reported egregious incidents of drug use on the job, guns and ammunitions brought to work, physical and sexual assault, and anti-gay attitudes.   We reported your managers, including Forest Supervisors and District Rangers for sexually assaulting, threatening, and harassing women; coming to work intoxicated, and directing their employees to use official time, personnel and property for personal gain. Nepotism is rampant. We reported numerous incidents of retaliation against employees who report civil rights abuses and manager misconduct.  Not one of these employees was held accountable for their actions, despite eyewitness reports.


In the alternative, you have disciplined and terminated employees (mostly women and minority employees) for minor inappropriate behaviors and trumped up, false charges. In addition, I receive many calls from Caucasian males (mostly firefighters) who are retaliated against for challenging civil rights violations, safety violations, or bad management practices. The culture you permit and condone is one of "go along to get along" or risk the wrath of management.


You state that only trained and professional investigators are used to investigate employees, and they use standardized processes and procedures. This is not true in many cases. Your managers who perform "pre-action interviews" often have no idea what they are doing. I recently asked one of your District Rangers why a supervisor who had an anti-gay poster in his office was not disciplined or sent to specialized training, and why it was not reported to Region within 24 hours. He did not know about the 24-hour notification or that his supervisor committed a civil rights violation. However, the man who reported the violation was suspended for minor actions such as running a chain saw when he was fatigued, having the wrong phone number on a sick leave document, and giving his Task Book to the Training Officer without his supervisor's permission.  Recently, one of your "trained" ASC investigators called one of the FFC agents who was at home on stress leave and threatened her. Employees are often contacted by an investigator and not given due process rights.  They are not advised whether they are a witness or subject of the investigation. They are not informed if the investigation is administrative or criminal. They are denied representation. If management wants a witch-hunt, then everybody and their brother will be interviewed. However, if management wants a cover up, then even eyewitnesses will not be interviewed. I must say here that one of the worst perpetrators of this problem is the Sequoia National Forest, where Forest Supervisor Kevin Elliott has three of the seven FFC agents on his forest. Despite our numerous requests, nothing has been done to deal with this terrible work environment.


The Agency's own Compliance Team declared that sexual harassment is a major problem in Region 5. The sexual harassment "24 hour notification" process for investigating sexual harassment that you discuss in your email is often not made timely or at all. As you know, there are many times when I have made the notification myself because your managers refuse to report incidents. You do not hold your managers accountable for not following this policy.


Chief Tidwell, you know this is happening, i.e. discipline as a tool for retaliation, and lack of accountability for protected employees. Members of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees and FFC agents have given you multiple documents and have had personal conversations with you and your staff, and Secretary Vilsack and his staff about these matters.


In 2010 I met with you and Randy Moore. You denied your managers retaliated against employees, telling me you did not see what value there would be in doing that (Mr. Moore hung his head and would not give me eye contact because even he knew what you were saying was untruthful). 


In May 2011 the White House contacted Secretary Vilsack with concerns about the abuses against women in Region 5. In response, Secretary Vilsack removed employee relations and civil rights authorities from the Forest Service and gave that authority to Deputy Assistant Secretary Robin Heard. He directed her to meet with the women (I insisted that Caucasian and minority male employees be included) and act on his authority to "fix the problems in Region 5."  Ms. Heard was either unwilling or unable to do this. I think she summed it up best when she told me that Agency officials were not going to hold managers accountable because then they would have to hold themselves accountable and they were not going to do that. Oh, yes, she really said that.


In October 2011 Coalition members and Region 5 female employees went to D.C. and met with Secretary Vilsack to discuss issues and provide recommendations. You were at that meeting. The Secretary could only talk about how wonderful his Cultural Transformation program was. We advised him it had no positive impact on employees in the field. Our concerns were ignored.


In 2012 we returned to D.C. The Secretary and his staff, and you and your staff would not even meet with us. We told our stories at the National Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights, and to our political leaders.


In 2013 we returned to D.C. We met with Deputy Under Secretary Butch Blazer, your Deputy Chief Angela Coleman, your Civil Rights Director Ted Gutman, and Secretary Vilsack's Deputy Chief of Staff Oscar Gonzales. We discussed the civil rights abuses, provided you with recommendations, and requested collaboration on addressing the problems. I shared that I had been recently contacted by a female firefighter who had been raped on the job. She would not come forward because she observed how Alicia Dabney had been treated when she reported sexual assault (she was terminated) and she could not afford to lose her job because she had a family to support. Your staff appeared to be concerned. Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Blazer, Ms. Coleman, and Mr. Gutman all promised to work with us and to help individuals - all I needed to do was call. Throughout 2014 we had almost weekly conversations with these officials and Director of Civil Rights Adjudication Carl Martin-Ruiz. I asked for assistance for a disabled employee who worked at San Dimas. She had a Traumatic Brain Injury and was improperly terminated due to her request for a minor reasonable accommodation. The woman's health severely deteriorated. She lost her home, her car, and was living off the kindness of friends. Mr. Gutman and Mr. Blazer said they would "look into it."  They did nothing.  I later discovered that Robin Heard was one of the officials involved in her removal, just as Ms. Heard was involved in Alicia Dabney's removal. I asked for assistance for an employee with Type 1 Diabetes who was improperly terminated (San Bernardino National Forest – I ask again, when is someone going to stop Jody Noiron from randomly destroying employees' lives). With no livelihood this woman could not even afford her insulin. Mr. Gonzales told me he would "look into it." No action occurred.


Mr. Gonzales agreed to fly to California, meet with me, and put together a task force of female and male firefighters to deal with the female firefighter discrimination issues. Time went by and no action. Finally, when I pressed him for action in April, he denied making that promise. Coalition President Lawrence Lucas reminded him that he was present and witnessed Mr. Gonzales' agreement with me. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Gonzales stopped all communications with us. He admitted to Mr. Lucas that he had no authority and could not even get managers to return his calls. If that was true, then Secretary Vilsack never had any intention of working with us to address the civil rights violations in the USDA and Forest Service. Thus, the Region 5 Female Firefighter Class Complaint was filed. As you are aware, a majority of class agents are the same women who spent their own money in 2011, 2012, and 2013 to fly to D.C. and attempt to resolve the issues outside of legal action. You and Secretary Vilsack have only yourselves to blame for yet another Region 5 class complaint.


And finally, in your September 2014 email you recite a litany of processes developed to address the problems of sexual harassment, inclusiveness, and a respectful work environment. These measures are the same reactions we've seen for years – processes, teams, and paperwork that provide no results in changing the institutionalized culture of discrimination, bullying, and retaliation. The Agency created these very same smoke and mirror actions during the Bernardi lawsuit and the Donnelly lawsuit. We are not going to be fooled into believing that your new (same old) "progressive measures" will "improve, enhance, and transform the work environment." So again, Chief Tidwell, we are asking that you look at our documents that identify issues, concerns, opportunities, and recommendations for changing the culture of abuse. We ask that you contact us to begin a dialogue and to collaborate on authentic measures that will make the USDA, Forest Service a place where all employees are respected, included, and provided equal opportunities. Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please feel free to contact me at 530-365-3456 or lesa@snowcrest.net to discuss any of the matters in this letter.




/s/ Lesa L. Donnelly

Vice President of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees.


cc: Secretary Tom Vilsack

      USDA Coalition of Minority Employees President, Ron Cotton

      USDA Coalition of Minority Employees President Emeritus, Lawrence Lucas

      Region 5 FFC Agents

      President Barack Obama

      Secretary Hillary Clinton

      Senator Charles Grassley