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Posted on Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Senior citizens await their return to work at Ann Arbor EPA plant

By Ben Freed

Just a few more than 70 senior citizens who work at the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory on Plymouth Road have been stuck at home for more than a week and a half.

The workers technically are “program enrollees” whose payment and benefits are overseen by Senior Service America Inc. (SSAI) through the Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) program. Their status has been in limbo since July 1 due to a worker’s compensation insurance coverage issue.


The Environmental Protection Agency's National Vehicle & Fuel Emissions Laboratory on Plymouth Road analyzes fuels, fuel additives and exhaust compounds.

Ben Freed |

A post on the Senior Service America website instructs enrollees to not report to work until further notice unless they have personally been otherwise notified by a field operations officer. The posting encourages enrollees to use any available accrued leave during the period they are unable to work and allows for sick days to be used without a doctor’s statement.

“I don’t see it as a very fair way to do this,” said one SEE enrollee who requested anonymity due to concerns regarding his enrollment status.

“Why should I use my annual leave for this instead of for planned events with my family and grandchildren? I’ve been exhausting all of my sick time and vacation time over the last week and a half.”

Seniors who work in the SEE program are not government employees, but are entitled to benefits that include workers compensation, paid vacation and sick time, health insurance and federal holidays.

SSAI executive director Tony Sarmiento said in an email his company is working with the Michigan Workers Compensation Placement Facility to obtain coverage and enrollees could return to work as early as Friday.

“This is the first time we have encountered difficulty obtaining worker compensation insurance for our SEE enrollees since we started operating the program in 1984,” he said.

Sarmiento said in an interview that SSAI is working state by state to restore workers compensation insurance to its enrollees. He said program participants in some states already have gone back to work and he hopes to have Ann Arbor back on line by the end of the week.

According to the SSA website, the company offers enrollment opportunities in 20 states and Puerto Rico through the SEE program. Cities with EPA facilities that enroll program participants include Ann Arbor, Washington DC, Anchorage, Dallas and Atlanta.

According to the EPA website, the SEE program started in 1984 to provide an opportunity for retired and unemployed older Americans to share their expertise with the EPA. The program is administered by the EPA through grants to organizations like Senior Service America who in turn enroll the program participants.

According to a document on the SSAI website, there are four levels of enrollment through the program that range from Clerical/Non-Typing to Professional positions such as engineers, inspectors, or chemists. Nationwide, entry-level wages range from $7.27 to $12.72 per hour, with the highest paid professional enrollees making $18.16 per hour.

Sarmiento said in an email of the 71 program participants at the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, 31 fall into Level III (technical) jobs that pay $10.30-$13.92 per hour and 40 are Level IV (professional) enrollees making $12.72-$18.16 per hour.

The National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory tests vehicles, engines and fuels for compliance with national standards.

According to an EPA spokesperson, the SEE enrollees make up approximately 20 percent of the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory's workforce.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Get in touch with Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 6:02 p.m.

In regards to what these individuals have done in a previous job, a large majority of the people who work at the Ann Arbor facility have worked in the private sector for most of their careers. As pointed out in the story, many of them don't make great money and the vacation and sick time is a great perk for them. Most of the individuals that are at this facility rely on their jobs to supplement income so they can take care of family members, themselves and children just like any other person. And no most of them did not come from high paying former professions. So the reason that it is difficult once they have gone through their "perk" time is because if they now get sick they won't have the built up time to take so they can get healthy. It is difficult to comprehend how someone without knowing any of these hard working individuals can talk down about them. They had to pay for their parents and grand parents just as we are paying for their comp time now. Unfortunately we cannot pick and choose who we support and that is the best part of our government and tax system. But if it were different I would vote to not support you in a time of need walker101

Ben Freed

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

I've updated the story to note that an EPA spokesperson told me that the 71 SEE enrollees make up approximately 20 percent of the workforce at the NVFEL.

John of Saline

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

What are their jobs at the facility?


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

If you look up the mission statement it's intended to help other seniors by doing community work etc.. over the years it has progressed into a miss managed organization and abuse of powers by having special interest groups go on the payroll for peanuts long term and keeping those that need it out if their political ideologies may differ.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

FYI, regular EPA employees like my neighbor are periodically taking unpaid days off due to the "sequester". Your government at work - not.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Absolutely. We don't often see the results of the sequester first hand, it can be jarring to hear when it hits close to home. I have a friend in the army and they have also been affected by the increased time off.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:10 p.m.

It certainly puts a face on it seeing my neighbor home some Fridays.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

Brad, SEE program enrollees have also been effected by the sequester taking "furlough" days every so often.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.

For the record, the program walker is referencing, SCSEP (or Senior Community Service Employment Program), is an entirely different program than the SEE (Senior Environmental Employment) program that these workers are a part of. The SCSEP program is run though the Department of Labor, not the EPA. Senior Services America does also facilitate enrollees in the SCSEP program, but they were not affected by this issue. And to your question walker, Professional enrollees does include engineers, scientists, inspectors and chemists.

Ben Freed

Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 4 p.m.

walker, as I've pointed out the SCSEP program is an entirely separate and unrelated program. The SEE seeks out professionals while the SCSEP has an entirely different mission. Please try to keep your comments germane to the subject at hand.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

The EPA may have been created for a good reason, but like every other government created entity, they have become full of themselves and their heads swelling with their vision of MORE POWER ! They have lost sight of the realistic agenda and if they don't soon get a grip on reality, they will find themselves sleeping in the car next to the employees of the businesses they destroyed. It's a government bureaucracy that needs to be reevaluated and limited in trying to save the US with personal agendas. Regardless of which agency it is still funded by taxpayer money, SCEP or SEE. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in the Program Year (PY) ending June 30, 2009, 70% of all SCSEP participants were women, 48% were minority, and 89% had family incomes at or below the federal poverty level. So that means many of these Professionals are in poverty level? Don't think so.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

"Why should I use my annual leave for this instead of for planned events with my family and grandchildren? I've been exhausting all of my sick time and vacation time over the last week and a half." I guess because maybe its because your not working? Maybe we as tax payers now need to pay your workers compensations for life even though you were never hurt on the job, maybe because your feelings were hurt? Professional enrollees, does that mean retired lawyers, doctors, professors. The jobs were intended for those individuals that were: SCSEP participants must be: Fifty-five or older Legally eligible to work in the U.S. Living in a household with income no more than 125 percent of the federal poverty level Special consideration is given to people who are any of the following: Sixty-five and older Have a disability Have limited English proficiency or low literacy skills Live in a rural area Are a veteran Have low employment prospects Are homeless or at risk of homelessness Just another failed government agency.


Fri, Jul 12, 2013 : 4:09 p.m.

SCSEP is a different completely different program than the SEE program - the former is for persons who meet the criteria you mention above. The SEE program has an entirely different set of qualifications, geared toward those with college degrees of various sorts, who are transitioning toward retirement, but still want, or need to work... other than the age requirement, and work eligibility requirement, the requirements are all different.


Thu, Jul 11, 2013 : 10:14 a.m.

What a shame and what a silly reason to put 70 people on leave. I worked at EPA for years and the SEE employees are a critical part of what the agency they were just amazing employees, often folks who had worked hard for years and were taking on post-retirement jobs. They were dedicated and experienced and contributed enormously to our mission; you can't imagine better workers, plus a generally kind and thoughtful group of people. So sorry they are having to go thru this.