By Edwin K. Propst
This video is from a privileged speech I gave at yesterday's House Session covering two topics, the soon-to-be-unemployed firefighters and the possibly soon-to-be unemployed NMTI staff and instructors.
I have taken some hits as expected by standing up for these firefighters and supporting their right to choose whether or not to get the COVID vaccine. But I have also been willing to meet and speak with constituents and anyone else who disagrees with my position to explain how I feel about this matter. Here are some facts along with my sentiments:
1. These firefighters/EMT's are being fired for not following the Governor's mandate or directive, which is that all employees must take the vaccine. The fact is, neither federal government employees nor military troops and personnel are required to take the vaccine.
2. As we have learned from our latest local community spread cases, even if you are fully vaccinated, you can still get COVID-19 and you can still spread it to family and friends and community.
3. Everyone should have access to get the vaccine, most especially our elderly and the immunocompromised. But the question is, should you be forced to take the vaccine? This is where some division in our community exists. While some claim it is for the "safety and well-being" of the community, the FACT is, these same firefighters were risking their own personal safety and well-being (as well as their families) by going out and responding to 911 emergencies while the rest of us were told to stay home. These same firefighters and EMT's must still wear PPE's and protect themselves and the patients they respond to, regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. The COVID protection gear and safety measures are still in place.
4. While we hear that these firefighters/EMT's are privileged to work, have we forgotten how underprivileged they have been when it comes to their salaries and benefits, as they receive one of the lowest salaries in the nation? Is firing them, some of whom have served for more than two decades, really the best option? These firefighters have not broken any laws. They are not criminals. They are lifesaving heroes who were well respected in the community, up until they questioned having to be forced to take this vaccine. Where do we go from here, and what is next? What if retirees were told that they would not receive their pension unless they got the vaccine? Hafa mohon?
5. We are told that you can be exempted from taking the vaccine on religious grounds or because of medical issues. If those who are excused based on religion or medical issues are still employed, then aren't they still posed as a threat to the "safety and well-being of the community"? How does your religious belief exempt you from the vaccine, but your personal belief in the right to choose is meaningless? Do you see some inconsistencies here?
If you believe that these firefighters pose a risk to your personal health and well-being because they were not vaccinated, then why did we still call on them when there was no vaccine?
These firefighters/EMT's devoted their lives in trying to help and save others. Their entire training was dedicated to selfless service. As first responders, they have seen things we hope never to see. If you still believe they should be fired, and you still go to Church regularly, I ask that you pray God blesses you with more compassion and empathy for others.
Regarding the staff and instructors at NMTI, I sincerely hope they are not terminated. These are good, hardworking employees who have done all they can to make NMTI what it is today. They are responsible for the $10 million EDA grant and over $7 million in HUD funding. They are responsible for hundreds of graduates from NMTI. They have managed to keep NMTI afloat despite the fact they received ZERO DOLLARS from CW fees for two straight years, despite the fact these CW fees were intended for NMTI.
We will surely know that if Ross Manglona is terminated, it will be a political hit. Ross is a critic of this Administration, but why should that matter as far as his employment at NMTI is concerned? The truth is, it shouldn't. His work, his credentials, his passion, dedication, and work performance should be all that matters. I wish the new NMTI CEO Jodina Attao the very best and pray she keeps this in mind, and that she does not cave in to political pressure from this Administration. The staff and instructors at NMTI have proven themselves, as has the former CEO Agnes McPhetres, an educational pioneer and leader, who is well known and highly regarded in the Pacific for her perseverance and grit.
My dear friends, I expect to get backlash and criticism for my opinions that are based on facts and feelings of empathy. My job would be a walk in the park if I could ignore controversy and smile, taking an allowance and passing out chenchule to you and your families as if taxpayer dollars grow on trees. But they don't. These are hard times, and I don't like seeing good people fired so easily. Thank you for your time in hearing me out and I wish you and your family the very best always.