Exit interview with NARFE's Margaret Baptiste

Tuesday - 9/14/2010, 2:46pm EDT

Your Turn with Mike Causey

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September 15, 2010 -- Your Turn host Mike Causey interviews Margaret Baptiste, the outgoing president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

Baptiste was the first woman, the first non-fed, and the first Brit to hold the job in the 90-year history of NARFE. So how did she get here?

"I came to America in 1956, meaning to stay a year, and just see New York and then travel across the country," Baptiste said. "As I always say, it's been a very long year."

Baptiste first joined NARFE when her husband, an engineer with the military sea command, retired. Early on in their marriage, Baptiste said, her husband commented that while she might not appreciate his being gone for long periods of time, he had already contributed 15 years toward his annuity and she would appreciate when he retired with it.

And he was right. So even though she was foreign-born and a non-fed, serving NARFE was still personal.

"We always saw NARFE as a way to protect and defend and preserve his annuity," Baptiste said. "I am very very happy to get that small check every month, and I would be a fool if I didn't work to preserve and protect it."

Which is what she has done. Baptiste first became involved in her local chapter in South Carolina and was continuously elected to higher posts, to which she never thought a woman or foreigner would ever be elected. She lost her first election for national president in 2002, but was elected four years later in 2006.

"To everyone's surprise, here I am and I have had the most fantastic four years," Baptiste said.

As outgoing president, Baptiste has overseen many changes and successes, the latest of which was the increase of national annual NARFE dues to $40. For Baptiste, that's more money for the association to continue to do its work, especially in light of the challenges that are ahead.

For the second year in a row, the cost of living adjustment did not increase, while the cost of living for retired feds did. Also, Baptiste said, the incoming report of the deficit commission is troublesome and the government must find a way to balance the budget because retired feds will pay the price.

"It's much easier to cut benefits to four-million federal retirees than it is to the millions and millions of social security people, so we always get threatened first, and that's what we have to keep on the alert for," Baptiste said.

Baptiste also raised an important point about the ongoing debate over federal employee compensation. She said, as much as people would like to say that the federal workforce is better educated and carrying out more specialized work than the private sector at large, they forget about postal workers and park rangers.

"Active federal workers and retirees need to know that NARFE is the only organization really working for them, and they need to belong now more than ever," Baptiste said. "We need numbers to have a big voice in Washington."

Up next for Baptiste: retirement, and heading back home to Charleston, South Carolina. But she's grateful for her time with NARFE.

"I think I've been very lucky. I may have picked the four best years to be president that anyone could pick!"