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Guest Column: Supporting our patriots in work force

By Staff | Oct 10, 2014

North Dakota has about 27,000 open jobs. It’s a fact that reinforces the drastic rewards of growth in our state. But it also shows that some sectors are struggling to fill open positions and retain workers.

The lure of more lucrative jobs in the oil patch, where workers can better afford the skyrocketing housing prices in the state, has pulled employees away from jobs at federal agencies and our Air Force Bases. But these federal jobs are needed to both handle and support North Dakota’s growth, and help keep our communities safe.

For the remaining federal employees, the stories are heartbreaking of workers and their families struggling to get by because they can’t afford to live in North Dakota when they haven’t received fair pay increases in years.

I recently visited Minot Air Force Base to hear from civilian employees – the majority of whom are veterans – and I spoke with a man who said his children live in a car, and that each day he struggles to afford basic groceries and necessities due to skyrocketing prices. These types of stories were repeated from so many civilian workers.

But I wasn’t the only one listening. To actually implement real improvements, we need the person who oversees federal workers to make those changes, so I brought U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta out to Minot Air Force Base to speak with civilian employees herself. It’s part of Archuleta’s role to make sure federal employees receive fair wages and to make sure federal workers can do their jobs. She heard these upsetting stories as well. She had working parents cry on her shoulder about their struggles.

Archuleta and I also met with the heads of federal agencies in North Dakota to talk about the challenges they face recruiting and retaining workers, and the burdens of positions staying open for months at a time. At Minot Air Force Base, some federal civilian jobs have remained open for about 200 days.

Yet despite the dire circumstances some federal employees face, Archuleta and I were both struck by what these empty positions mean for the rest of the work force – federal employees aren’t leaving work unfinished. Instead, they’re rolling up their sleeves and getting it done – working overtime and not reporting it, or even double time and not getting paid for it. But they shouldn’t have to do that.

These challenges don’t just impact federal agencies and employees. They impact all of us – ranchers need managers, oil companies need permit approvals, farmers must make critical decisions about new Farm Bill provisions that will impact their livelihood for years to come, and Indian reservations need law enforcement officers and social workers.

Federal workers serve under the same flag, and they keep the gears of national security and our economy turning – yet this security and service is compromised when the value of their work is not fully recognized by our federal government.

That’s why I’m extremely grateful to Archuleta for coming to hear these stories face-to-face with our federal workers. She left North Dakota with a greater understanding of their immense challenges by witnessing their awe-inspiring resolve to continue to be part of the mission to serve this country.

I’ll continue fighting for our federal workers and civilian employees. And I won’t be satisfied until I can look them in the eye and say, ‘I’ve done right by you, the federal government has done right by you – because you’re a patriot.’ “

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