USBP Shooting in Eagle Pass

On October 5, 2010, a Border Patrol Agent working near Eagle Pass, Texas, was involved in an on-duty shooting. That shooting resulted in the death of Eagle Pass resident, Juan Mendez. As the investigation is still ongoing, full details have not been released. What is known, though, is that over 300 lbs of marijuana was found in Mendez’s vehicle and that he physically assaulted the agent.

Later that week, Maverick County Sheriff Tomas Herrera gave an impromptu press conference in which he made several allegations against the Border Patrol Agent, including that the agent was wrong in using his firearm, saying he should not have fired “in a case like this”.

As a law enforcement officer, Sheriff Herrera should know better than to make any comment about a case that is still under investigation. The proper response regarding specific details of the shooting should have been, “The case is still under investigation, so no comment can be made at this time.” Instead, Sheriff Herrera has decided to virtually convict the agent on his own, despite not having the results of a completed investigation. This behavior is irresponsible and horribly unprofessional and does nothing more than taint a potential jury pool.

As with any other incident, this agent is innocent until found guilty in a court of law — not from behind Sheriff Herrera’s desk.

To view Sheriff Herrera’s impromptu press conference, click below:

Del Rio Stewards

Despite an increased presence of the Union in Del Rio Sector, the purpose and abilities of a steward are often misconstrued.

I was notified the other day that an Agent at the Eagle Pass South Station had no respect for me. When I saw the Agent at a unit get together a couple days prior, he illustrated his dislike by refusing to shake my hand. Considering that I had never dealt directly with this Agent, and my entire history of interaction with him goes no further than a nod and a, “what’s up?” while bumping into him at the station, I was surprised by his behavior. While I am not so vain as to assume his opinion is a unique one, it was interesting to discover why the Agent felt this way. The ultimate purpose for this article is to address some myths that exist regarding AFGE-NBPC Local 2366, including a concern raised by the Agent.

The Agent cited several reasons for his feelings. One of them was that the Union (specifically myself) was not able to prevent his fellow employee, and friend, from being terminated by the Service. I will take the time to address these concerns and, hopefully, ameliorate any misperceptions regarding the local union that Agents may have.

What we aren’t:

To be as clear as possible, Local 2366 cannot implement discipline against Agents. We do not make Agents write memos, nor do we investigate their behavior. Agents don’t work for us, rather, we work for them. Disciplinary activities are conducted by the Service, and it is the job of the Union to make sure that these activities are conducted as fairly as possible within the confines of law. If the Service decides to fire an intern employee, they have a scary amount of latitude to do so. The only way that an intern Agent can appeal the process is if there is a legal violation in the termination process. Examples of illegal termination would include removing a person from employment based on their membership in a protected class or retaliating against an intern employee for their activity with the Union. Short of issues such as this, there is nothing that we, nor any attorney, can do.

Although the Union protects Agents in administrative and labor law, we are not attorneys. For this reason, we lack the protections of lawyers such as the attorney-
client privilege. Therefore, any information which is divulged to a steward can be subpoenaed in court. Obviously, it is the obligation of the steward, as it is the obligation of all employees, to report criminal wrongdoing. Our sole purpose is to ensure that the bargaining unit is treated fairly. That said, we do not share personal or embarrassing information with others, unless there is a need to know. Local 2366 prides itself in consistently operating in a professional, private fashion.

Our purpose is not to address minor slights that occur in the work environment. Although we strive for equity, a degree of conflict is sometimes the unfortunate side effect of working with another person. As employees, we know that there is, at times, going to be something (or someone) we don’t agree with. However, if a violation of an employee’s rights occurs on any level, we will attempt to address the issue as swiftly as possible. We urge those who have experienced any violation of their rights, to contact us immediately.

Ultimately, we are not here to undermine the Service, nor are we here to sabotage management. Each steward is also an employee of the Border Patrol. I am a Border Patrol Agent at the Eagle Pass South Station. We work for the Border Patrol and the Border Patrol ethos, but we are also aware of the most important component of the Agency. The Border Patrol has become, and will continue to be, a great organization because of the efforts put forth by their employees. Our sole intention is to protect the rights and further the interests of those employees.

What we are:

Agents and employees differ in their performance. Some are consistent, hard-chargers, most are good, reliable workers, but there is also a minority who are sluggish, unprofessional and just plain bad employees. They are either not capable of the job, or they don’t care to make an effort. To these workers, employment with the Border Patrol is nothing more than a paycheck. These handful of people fail to strive for a job well done. Although, like the Service, we have a variety of Agents with a variety of experience, we have a luxury that the Service does not. Whereas the Service mandates a certain number of Agents per station, we do not mandate a certain number of stewards. For that reason we have more flexibility in who becomes, and who continues to be, a steward. Everyone who works as a steward does so because he or she cares about helping out other people. Stewards from Local 2366 do not tolerate gossip or inappropriate remarks. We are not doing this because of a paycheck, rather, we do this because we believe in the Agents. We believe in equity.

Union stewards are champions. That is not to say that we win all the fights that we engage in, but we are champions because we fight for the interests of Agents and employees. Stewards advocate the use of annual leave, fair selection for details and safe work conditions. We regularly engage in discussions with management to address these issues and make the employee’s work experience that much better. If you are interested in seeing some of the concerns we have championed, peruse this site. You will see some of the litigation we have undertaken on behalf of the Agents. Continue checking in, and you will see more.

Union stewards are also referred to as Union representatives. Representation is perhaps the most important action that we engage in. When we champion a cause, we are representing the interests of the bargaining unit as a whole. Union stewards also represent Agents in individual cases. If any statement is requested by a representative of the Service, and the employee believes that the interview could lead to discipline, a local steward is available to represent them. Agents who are proposed disciplinary action also have the right to have a steward represent them. Despite the possible perception of vanity, Union stewards are very good at what they do. As stated earlier, we get to choose the best representatives and, if a steward is not living up to the expectation of Local 2366, they are removed. Stewards are trained specifically within the confines of a couple specific resources. Most typically implemented are the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the Service and the Union, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM) guidelines, and various Service policies. Like the Service has many new Agents, we have many new stewards, all of whom are looking forward to helping you out. Despite the influx of new stewards, we
have a great deal of experienced Agents and stewards available. If you are proposed a disciplinary action, or are scheduled for an interview by a representative of the Service, and would like the assistance of a steward, please contact us immediately and arrangements will be made so that a steward will be present to represent you.

I hope this article serves to show what a steward is and what one is not. We are here to help the bargaining unit and address equity. Stewards work for the Agents and employees of the Border Patrol because we have the sincere belief that it is important that we do so. If you have questions or need clarification about the Union, please ask before forming an opinion. Thank you.

President
Local 2366
July 17, 2010

Del Rio Sector flooding

Due to the historic levels of water presently in Lake Amistad, the dam is nearly entirely open.  The surrounding areas and the communities down stream will continue to experience flooding for, what may be, several more days.

After the dam was opened, one of the immediate consequences was accelerated flooding downriver of Lake Amistad.  The Rio Grande continued to swell up and the creeks and arroyos which normally dump into the Rio became new fingers of the swollen river.  The flooding ultimately became so bad that Elm Creek spilled over Highway 277 and the highway was subsequently inundated with water.  Maverick County authorities shut down Highway 277, just outside of Eagle Pass, Texas, on Monday night to Tuesday afternoon, July 5-6.  Agents who normally commute between Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Texas were forced to travel up Highway 57, to FM 481, to Uvalde, Texas, to Highway 90, through Brackettville, Texas and finally on to Del Rio.  This route added in excess of two hours to Agents’ travel times.

The Union felt that the impact of the alternate route was excessive, dangerous, and unnecessary.  To address our concerns, an e-mail was sent to Sector requesting that Agents who would be impacted by the closure of Highway 277 be allowed to work in nearby, non-obstructed, stations.   The Acting Chief Patrol Agent, Dean Sinclair, responded that he would allow agents to attend closer stations so long as it did not impact operations and was approved by the necessary Patrol Agents in Charge.  This allowance would only be for the time that Highway 277 was blocked.

The Union would like to commend the Service for allowing this temporary measure.  We feel that the Service acted in a responsible manner by considering the impact of the environment on the Agents.  The Union strongly believes that this type of dialogue is essential for remedying legitimate Agent concerns.  We applaud Chief Sinclair for his prudence in this matter.

Although the raining has stopped for now, the river and surrounding areas still remain treacherous.   Despite the recession of the river, we encourage agents to use caution when operating near the river or other flooded areas.  Washouts, slick banks and areas where water may be continuing to cover the road are the by-product of Rio Grande flooding.  In the past years, accidents have occurred due to each of these calamities.   Agents have rolled their trucks after dropping tires into washouts, slid their vehicles into rivers or canals, and had vehicles swept away while trying to ford water covered roads.