Federal workers have an advocate that stands with them even after their careers.
Founded in 1921, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association is dedicated to enhancing and protecting the pay, retirement and benefits of all federal employees, whether currently employed or retired, and their survivors. The association has more than 1,300 chapters, including one in Huntsville.
Cheryl Patterson, president of NARFE’s Huntsville/Madison County Chapter 443, is a retired branch supervisor of the Civilian Personnel Operations Center on Redstone Arsenal. Patterson joined NARFE six years ago. She served as chapter secretary for three years and vice president for one year before being selected as president in January.
“Our service office is located in the Huntsville-Madison County Senior Center at 2200 Drake Avenue and Barbara Boomershine is our service officer,” Patterson said. “She’s in the office every Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. Our local chapter also meets at the senior center every month on the second Saturday of each month. We have refreshments at 9:30 a.m. and then we have a business and program meeting from 10 to 11 a.m.”
The meetings deal with topics of interest to the chapter’s 1,444 members, including tax and financial planning, senior safety, and health and wellness.
“Last year we had the mayoral candidates come out for a debate at the senior center and we took a tour of the HudsonAlpha campus,” Patterson said. “And every November, we have Blue Cross/Blue Shield give a presentation about any upcoming changes to their benefits.”
The chapter also keeps members up to date about legislative concerns, via NARFE’s legislative committee. “We have a team of government professionals, an advocate group, in Washington that testifies before Congress,” Patterson said. “They follow any legislation that affects employees, from salaries to health benefits to retirement.”
That includes the specter of sequestration that is looming over the federal government. “Our members are affected by sequestration or anything of that nature because it can mean people losing their positions or losing pay because they will be furloughed,” Patterson said. “They should be worried but understand NARFE is working on their behalf always.”
About 70 percent of the chapter’s members are retirees, in large part because the NARFE places heavy emphasis on advocating for their interests. “We’re the only association that is safeguarding our retirees earned rights and benefits,” Patterson said. “That ‘earned’ is important, because we hear so much about retirement pay being an entitlement, but it’s an earned right and benefit.”
But as president, Patterson wants to spread the word that NARFE isn’t just for retired federal employees. It’s also for current employees. “I didn’t know anything about NARFE when I was an active employee. No one ever spoke to me about it, and I never received any type of publicity,” she said. “But we do represent active employees and we would love to have more active employees in our local chapter.”
Thus, Patterson said it’s her dream to open a small office on the Arsenal to increase active employee awareness of NARFE. “Then we could hold meetings for active employees maybe once every two months, after work, because Saturdays are generally not a good time for federal employees to attend meetings due to family commitments,” she said.
In the meantime, she is spreading the word through a number of channels. “We’re advertising with public service announcements, we’re on the local access channels, we’re doing interviews with the local media, we’re participating in the health fairs at NASA, Redstone, and the Army Corps of Engineers, and if we can, we will give a 15-minute presentation before a retirement seminar,” she said.
The chapter sponsors a team each year at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, held every September at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. “The NARFE is a big supporter of Alzheimer’s research. We think it’s a big problem for all our current retirees and it’s going to be a bigger problem in the future,” Patterson said. “Last year all the chapters combined raised $10 million, and this year we hope to raise $11 million. All that money goes to the Alzheimer’s Association.”
And there is still much more that Patterson would like to do as president – whether this year or the next.
“We give a voice to federal retirees and employees about what our concerns are – we protect federal employee salaries from bearing the burden of the debt ceiling and we protect their retirement fund and health benefits,” she said. “I would do it again.”
Editor’s note: More information can be found on the NARFE website at www.narfe.org and on the chapter website at https://sites.google.com/site/chapter443/. To reach the service office, call 382-5693 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.