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Open Letter To Usda Secretary Tom Vilsack

By Lawrence Lucus  Posted by Michael McCray (about the submitter)     Permalink
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USDA Colaiation of Minority Employees by Lucas Lawrance

October 25, 2011

Secretary Tom Vilsack

Subject: Follow-up to USDA Coalition of Minority Employee's Meeting with Secretary Tom Vilsack

Mr. Secretary:

Thank you for meeting with the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees (The Coalition) the early morning of October 4, 2011, just hours before our scheduled "Filibuster for Justice" in front of the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA). While Coalition members are pleased that the meeting took place, we remain disconcerted that our many requests, spanning more than two a-half years, had been ignored. Clearly, we made our first written request to you on July 2, 2010. On November 10, 2010, The Coalition made a second written request to meet with you. Each of our requests plainly detailed our "Twenty-Five Issues and Solutions Regarding USDA Civil Rights Program."

When we met on October 4th, you allowed our delegation to address minority farmers and USDA employee "Issues and Solutions". On that day you heard first hand, the unsanitized truth about the vile activity that is going on in some USDA offices and agencies around the country, especially, the U.S. Forest Service. You heard from USDA employees as well as USDA customers, minority farmers reflecting their reality and their conditions. Their message to you, perhaps, differed from the peppered accounts told to you by subordinate officials in USDA leadership.

Yes, Mr. Secretary, The Coalition members believe you have been misled as to the degree of pain, suffering and abuse, being inflicted on USDA employees and minority farmers. Our members also believe you are being misled about USDA's effort, or lack of effort, to hold USDA officials accountable for the hostile work environment they continue to create. For example, a manager in the Forest Service said to be fired and held accountable for assault, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment inflicted on one of the women participating in our meeting, was absolutely false. You were led to believe otherwise.

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In contrast to what subordinates may have told you, the timeliness of resolving minority farmers and USDA employees' cases; and the serious lack of accountability continues to plague the failed civil rights process at USDA. Carefully primed numbers reflecting civil rights data do not, and cannot trump the overwhelming reality expressed to you personally during our October 4th discussion of our "Issues and Solutions Regarding USDA Civil Rights Program." Many are suffering still at the hands of USDA officials in pockets, too numerous to mention, around the country. Yes, "one bad apple can destroy a barrel". Dutifully prepared statistics will not cure the civil rights ills at USDA. Mr. Secretary, you will need to take strong leadership to make a positive CHANGE happen within the culture of USDA. If the Clinton/Glickman administration can do it, so can the Obama/Vilsack Administration. There must be a willingness and on-going commitment at the very top to make the much needed long term systemic changes in USDA civil rights a reality, and not just a pipe dream.

However, it is with optimism that our "Decision Document", dated 3 October 2011 and our "Twenty-Five Issues and Solutions Regarding USDA Civil Rights Program of July 2010 and November 10, 2010, will be speedily addressed and acted upon in the affirmative.

Much of what we have offered to solve USDA's civil rights ills are in the USDA Civil Rights Action Team (CRAT), February 1997, and Civil Right Implementation Team (CRIT), March 1998, and the recent $8 million dollar Jackson Lewis Report. To the detriment of USDA employees and its customers, USDA has been ineffective in making change happen to promote a workforce culture that does not tolerate widespread discrimination, reprisal, racism, sexism, sexual harassment, bullying, and other abuses.

Taking into consideration The Coalition's offer to work in "cooperation and partnership" with your administration, a suggestion you seemed to embrace, hopefully, we can now move forward together. However, it should be noted that on October 6, 2011 my telephone conversation with your Chief of Staff, Ms. Krystal Harden, requesting to assist in developing workable solutions has produced no response. Working together should reduce the adversarial environment at USDA towards The Coalition.

It would be disingenuous to say that only the U.S. Forest Service has an abysmal civil rights record and hence, requires your attention. By far, that is not the case. Other USDA agency's including NRCS, APHIS, ARS (NIFA), RD, FS, the Office of Civil Rights and Departmental Management, and others are in dire need of your close civil rights oversight. These agencies also require your response in holding managers accountable for a positive workplace culture.

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Mr. Secretary, we would like to meet with you again between now and the first week in November 2011. We would like to hear your plan to speedily resolve USDA's long legacy of civil and human rights abuses, including how USDA may implement our recommendations for lasting systemic changes in USDA civil rights.

We want to know that cases filed at USDA will get the same treatment, speed and conclusion, as Ms. Shirley Sherrod.

Thank you very much for your immediate response.

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