2017 State of Our Union

President Tim Stoelb presented a clear-eyed snapshot of the state of our union that encapsulated the past year’s accomplishments and the challenges which lay ahead on day two of OSEA’s 79th Conference.

“It is neither an entirely rosy nor an entirely gloomy picture,” Stoelb said. “Instead, I hope to convey our reality.”

OSEA President Tim Stoelb

Stoelb told delegates that in the area of elections and lobbying, 2016-17 saw OSEA experience “a few setbacks” as well as a “number of substantial victories.” On the national level, the 2016 election resulted in the restoration of a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, which is again poised to eliminate OSEA’s right to collectively bargain fair share.

“Fortunately at the state level, OSEA was successful in electing candidates who are supportive of our issues,” Stoelb said, crediting the success to the hard work of OSEA’s government relations and communication departments, temporary campaign workers and member volunteers.

On the lobbying front, Stoelb said our Work Shouldn’t Hurt campaign has yielded substantial progress. House Bill (HB) 3318, which requires classified employees to have input into developing behavioral intervention plans for the students they serve, passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously.

The Work Shouldn’t Hurt campaign also resulted in Oregon OSHA proposing a rule change removing schools from its “safe workplace” listing. This change would mean schools would need to comply with the stringent recordkeeping regulations other occupations must follow when documenting injuries and work-related illnesses.

“Unfortunately, school districts are mounting an effort to put a hold on the rule change; they want to form a workgroup to study it instead,” Stoelb said. “We’ll let you know what happens. In any event; this battle is NOT over.”

In laying out future challenges, Stoelb said none loom as large as Janus v. AFSCME, which has the potential of eliminating fair share.

“The only thing that can save the day is a strong membership,” Stoelb said before challenging the delegates to boost membership by more than 10 percent. “We need to reach out and educate everyone we represent about what OSEA stands for, what we do and how it benefits everybody.”

Stoelb closed the speech by saying, “With each and every one of us working together … we will weather the storm ahead and indeed have a strong future.”


The following is the full text of OSEA’s 2017 State of the Union:

Good morning delegates,

Thank you so much for that generous applause and for the grand reception during last night’s introduction of your OSEA Board of Directors.

Recently, my wife Joyce and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. We took an overnight trip to the coast, went out to dinner and enjoyed our time together. As all couples do with grown-up kids, we spent some time reminiscing about how our family life had evolved from “Now What?” to “Remember When?”

As I prepared for Conference, it came to me that many of our members use the word “family” when talking about OSEA. I also believe OSEA is family and I would like to think of our annual Conference as one giant family reunion.

Like all family gatherings, members attending Conference will share stories about events that have occurred over the past year, meet new people and get reconnected with folks they have not seen since the last Conference. As in past years, there will be family members who are no longer with us but who will live on through those “Remember When” stories.

Conference is also when our OSEA family comes together to form the union’s governing body and attempts to answer the “Now What” question. Over the next two days, we will be addressing several complicated issues. We will have proposals, amendments and differences of opinion because, like most families, not all of us see eye to eye on every issue. But, just like family, we’ll stick together and work things out — and we’ll be stronger for it. That’s the democratic process.

OSEA members have been gathering together as family for almost 80 years. We were founded on the idea that through unity there is strength. Collectively, we have fought through the years to improve working conditions and secure family wage jobs and benefits for our members.

These efforts all begin at the grass-roots level where local leaders — in chapters large and small — spend countless hours representing, serving and advocating for their fellow members. These leaders, in turn, are supported by an internal network of stewards, worksite organizers and activists who communicate with the employees we represent and help keep little issues from becoming big problems.

I would like to ask our local chapter leaders, stewards, worksite organizers and other chapter activists to please stand at this time and be recognized.

I would like to thank each of you for the work you do in our chapters!

I see a lot of new faces out there on the Conference floor today. I would like to welcome you to your first OSEA “family reunion.” You come from chapters throughout the state and are here because you care about your union. Would our first timer delegates please stand?

Delegates, let’s give them a big welcoming applause.

• • •

As you Conference veterans know, each Conference has a theme. This year’s theme is “Strong Roots, Strong Future” and its graphical representation — a fruit tree — symbolizes the past, present and future generations making up our OSEA family.

We start with roots representing the elders who have provided the vision and strength to establish this organization from a tiny seedling. Some have passed away, but others are with us today and can be found on this floor at the Life member and ROSE tables.

From the roots sprout a tree trunk symbolizing us “Baby Boomers,” the current generation of leaders and activists who have spent a good portion of our lives supporting our fellow members. We may be getting up there in age, but we’re still the lifeblood of OSEA; the ones who have kept this organization strong.

Branching out from the trunk are limbs full of leaves and fruit representing those who have the boundless and youthful energy to take this organization well into the future. Perhaps a few of them can be found here today wearing green “First Timer” buttons. Or you can see the green leaves and colorful fruit as embodying the diversity of our chapters and their potential for growth.

The different generations of OSEA members each learn and draw strength from the other. Together, we make OSEA great.

• • •

The State of the Union is the starting point for the business of this Conference. My task is to give you a snapshot of where we have been this past year and what we are facing in the months ahead. It is neither an entirely rosy nor an entirely gloomy picture; instead, I hope to convey our reality.

This past year, I set out on a road trip of my own to visit with our chapter leaders. Of the 139 chapters on record, I was able to visit with leaders from 117. Besides passing along information about important issues at the state level, I was interested in learning how OSEA was doing from their perspective as local leaders. I also wanted to find out what we could do as an organization to help these leaders be successful. Overall, I was encouraged by what I found out.

Based on chapter feedback, OSEA has continued its “full press” on those issues of importance to our members, particularly in the areas of elections and lobbying, training, employee representation, workplace safety and organizing. All of these topics are directly related to the guidance we received from a 2013 member survey that identified the membership’s top five priorities.

By focusing on these areas, we are strengthening the roots of this organization. And based on what I heard, I believe OSEA is headed on the right path.

Elections and lobbying

In the area of elections and lobbying, we saw a few setbacks but we also had a number of substantial victories. Election 2016 was a bit of a surprise to a lot of people. For us, the national election changed the landscape for everyone we represent because it resulted in the restoration of a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, which is again poised to eliminate our right to collectively bargain fair share.

Fortunately at the state level, OSEA was successful in electing candidates who are supportive of our issues. Our government relations and communications staff, temporary campaign workers and volunteers were instrumental in this success.

On the lobbying front, our Work Shouldn’t Hurt campaign started to take off this year, fed by the information we gathered from a member survey as well as our members’ personal stories. We introduced House Bill 3318 during the legislative session. The bill requires school districts to conduct a functional behavioral analysis and develop an intervention plan for every student on an Individualized Education Program or whose behavior places other students or staff at risk of bodily harm. It also requires service providers, including classified employees, to have input on these intervention plans and to receive relevant training.

HB 3318, adequate sustainable school funding, and enforcement of outsourcing criteria were the legislative priorities we vigorously advocated for during Legislative Education Day (aka LED). This year, we surpassed all previous records for LED attendance with more than 150 of our member activists storming the Capitol, visiting with legislators and sharing their own personal stories. Some attendees had the unique opportunity to testify in support of HB 3318. Their testimony, along with many other compelling member stories, helped sway legislators to act. In fact, I’m happy to say HB 3318 passed both chambers of the Legislature unanimously.

Training

In the area of training, we continued to refocus our efforts on improving chapter governance and strengthening our union’s presence at worksites through our Chapter Leadership and Worksite Organizer programs.

At the chapter level, we discovered through site visits and surveys that local leaders — especially new ones — were clamoring for any assistance OSEA could provide them. So we instituted our Chapter Leadership program in the spring of 2016. The initial program was launched by OSEA Executive Director Rick Shidaker and me before we transferred the program to our 18 field representatives last fall. To date, we have trained 276 leaders in 92 chapters.

As we know, we get new classified employees every year. The first person these people should meet at their new worksite is a union representative. That contact is imperative to ensure the continued growth of our union. But we found our Building Employee Representative (BER) program was not meeting our chapters’ needs because there were too many building rep vacancies. It was time to get back to basics and refocus our efforts on that initial employee contact, so we also launched our Worksite Organizer program last spring.

Since we instituted the program, our organizers and field staff have trained 553 worksite organizers in 77 chapters. And perhaps more impressively — through the combined efforts of the organizing staff, chapter leaders and worksite organizers — we were able to sign up more than 2,200 new members.

But despite adding so many new members, our membership percentages have remained relatively constant, at about 69 percent, over the past three years largely due to the significant turnover of the employees we represent. Yet I see these percentages as promising; it tells me our chapters are keeping up with the turnover. But we need to do more. We need to set our goals higher — to at least 75 percent or better in the coming year. To do that, we need to have everyone working on membership — not just the chapter leadership and worksite organizers.

Representation

Besides providing leadership and steward training in our chapters, our OSEA field representatives have also been hard at work representing our members in disciplinary meetings and at the bargaining table this past year. Statistically, we had more successes than failures. Most employers get the fact that our members are the hardest working and lowest paid employees in the education business. Some employers unfortunately do not.

This year the director of field operations, our field representatives and chapter leaders were very productive, resulting in:

  • 87 trained stewards
  • 49 settled contracts
  • 8 grievances brought to arbitration (we won 5 and 3 are pending)
  • 6 filed unfair labor practices (we won 3, 2 were withdrawn and 1 decision is still pending)
  • Hundreds of grievances being settled at the informal level or first step of the grievance process

Many of us out there have had our share of challenges at the bargaining table. I would like to just take a moment and highlight five chapters that have completed — or are still working through — difficult negotiations this year:

  • Forest Grove Custodians Chapter 301, with help from our organizing department, recently packed a Forest Grove School Board meeting to demand the district put pressure on the private contractor Sodexo for higher wages and better benefits; a short time later, the custodians were able to bargain a 6 percent wage increase in 2017-18 and 5 percent increases in each of the next two years.
  • Oregon City Chapter 14 used to share negotiations with certified staff, which was obviously a bad situation for our chapter; through OSEA’s insistence that practice has stopped.
  • North Santiam Chapter 122 eventually succeeded in securing a respectable agreement after months of contentious negotiations capped by a mediated settlement.
  • Roseburg Chapter 21 has been offered a modest 1 percent COLA, coupled with an unnecessary layoff of more than 30 employees, while the district has socked away a $6 million nest egg. The chapter took this issue to the community through the media and their fight continues.
  • Ashland Chapter 42 is still battling its district which is withholding a COLA it promised in the hopes the chapter will capitulate on an unrelated bargaining issue.

Where would these chapters be without our union’s support? In each of the campaigns I mentioned, OSEA provided critical resources and logistical support that helped these chapters do more than hold their own.

Workplace Safety

As part of our initial Work Shouldn’t Hurt investigative series, we did research into the number as well as the extent of the injuries our members receive from the students they serve. Not surprisingly, we discovered very little was being reported outside of the workplace, let alone at the district level.

We also learned that part of the reason for that is K-12 schools are classified as “safe workplaces” under Oregon OSHA rules. That means schools are exempt from the stringent recordkeeping regulations other occupations are required to follow when documenting injuries and work-related illnesses. Currently, schools are only required to report fatalities, amputations, inpatient hospitalizations and eye loss.

We know, from hearing from you, our members are sustaining injuries from students as young as pre-kindergarten. And these injuries are not just occurring in special ed classrooms; they’re occurring in cafeterias, on bus routes and on playgrounds. These injuries can exact not only a physical, but also a mental toll. No employee should be fearful of entering their workplace.

So we knew it was our time to act. This year, OSEA submitted a petition with Oregon OSHA requesting that K-12 schools be removed from their “safe workplace” listing. In considering the petition, Oregon OSHA discovered schools have injury and illness rates significantly higher than would be expected under a “safe workplace” designation. In fact, the agency found, from 2011-2015, elementary and secondary schools had a DART rate (days away, restricted or transferred) slightly higher than nonresidential construction.

So Oregon OSHA drafted a new rule removing the “safe workplace” exemption and held two public hearings in May. OSEA had about a dozen classified employees testify at both meetings and another dozen submitted written testimony. Unfortunately, school districts are mounting an effort to put a hold on the rule change; they want to form a workgroup to study it instead. We’ll let you know what happens. In any event, this battle is NOT over.

Organizing

In the area of organizing, we were able to fill all four of our organizing positions this year. This has allowed us to concentrate our efforts to identify, train and follow-up with our worksite organizers. In addition to this, we have also been working with individual chapters and helping them organize First Book events. Through this highly successful program, we have now delivered more than 160,000 books to children across the state. And we have more plans in the works. There is nothing more gratifying than to see the smile on a child’s face when given a “First Book” that he or she can call their own.

I could go on and on about the great work we, as a union, are doing for our members and the communities we serve. Knowing there are some “visual” folks in the audience, I would like to take a few minutes here and present a video of the year in review.

[YEAR IN REVIEW VIDEO]

Yes, we have had our share of success this year. And we have every right to be proud of each success. I know I am.

So what does the coming year look like for OSEA and where do we go from here?

Probably one of the biggest challenges we face is educating the public about OSEA. When you reflect on it, OSEA does a lot for our members and the community — year-in and year-out.

From Labor Day to graduation day, we can be found out in the public at the State Fair, at Labor Day picnics throughout the state and at charity events with our coalition partners. We can be found providing scholarships, distributing free books to children in need as well as contributing to food banks and other charities. We do so much, but I think we can do even more.

I met with our AFT affiliates the other day and we discussed some other ideas of how we can get out and give back to the community. We came up with the idea of using a Saturday Market type format to offer assistance to low income families around the state. We discussed the possibility of using this type of event to offer services in a one-stop shop format such as immigration assistance, health care education, voting information and debt clinics. And, while we are at it, maybe give away a First Book or two to kids. Planning is very preliminary. Watch for more information on this opportunity.

The public may have a fuzzy idea of what we do in our schools, but how aware are they of all the volunteer work we do? Very little, it appears. And why is that? Well, for one, we are our own worst advocates. Classified employees, by nature, are much more comfortable working behind the scenes doing what we do best than we are in the spotlight.

This has to change for us to be successful in the future. When we go out into the public, we need to make sure we have our OSEA colors on. We need to take pride in the fact we are a union and promote ourselves at every opportunity. You don’t have an OSEA T-shirt or hat? We can work to fix that.

Fiscally, OSEA is in much better shape than we were just a few short years ago. We have been able to get back to a normal replacement schedule for our vehicles and technology. Facility maintenance is also back on track. You will also see, in this year’s budget proposal, it is our intent to pay off the balance of our arrears to AFT. Once we do, OSEA will be debt free. THIS IS A MONUMENTAL MOMENT. Your delegate action is what made it possible and I would like to personally thank each and every one of you for it.

• • •

Our work as union activists never stops — nor should it. For every challenge we overcome, another more sinister one takes its place. Any of us who have been around awhile knows life is rarely one-sided, and with success there will always be a challenge.

Unions are the last line of defense for the working class. The Wagner Act established union rights and Taft-Hartley set some boundaries. Together, these bills put employers and unions on a somewhat level playing field. Unions have the right to defend their members and to fight for what is just. But those rights have financial limits.

The 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Abood v. Detroit Board of Education gave unions the right to collect fees from all bargaining unit employees for the costs of representation, negotiations and contract enforcement. In OSEA contracts that include fair share clauses, the equivalent of full dues is collected.

Last year at this time, we were relieved with the U.S. Supreme Court’s tied decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. As I said last year, we did not win this case; we dodged a bullet. Had this case gone in the favor of the plaintiff, we would have lost our ability to negotiate fair share in our chapters and fair share clauses would have been struck from our contracts. Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing and the subsequent court vacancy gave us a reprieve from that dark cloud.

But it did not last long.

This year we face what may possibly be the strongest case yet against fair share. Janus v. AFSCME is not unlike Friedrichs; however, in this case the plaintiff’s argument is ALL union activity is political. By virtue of the fact we negotiate pay increases, benefits and working conditions, our activity is seen by them as telling a government entity how to treat workers and spend resources.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear Janus and have a ruling within the next year. With the appointment of Justice Gorsuch, there’s a high likelihood this case will be ruled in the favor of the plaintiff and fair share will be gone — immediately.

What does this mean for us? I don’t think I have to go into too many details to convey my fears. It will be devastating. Representation would be sparse at best. Our ability to lobby would be diminished and what we currently enjoy in terms of power and prestige as a union would become a distant memory.

A colleague of mine said recently the Janus case is like “taking your friends out for dinner; you always get the bill and they take the leftovers.” This is a good analogy of what life would be like.

How do we combat it? Expect the worst and do our best to minimize the damage.

The only thing that can save the day is a strong membership. Remember that 75 percent membership goal I mentioned earlier? Forget that — let’s aim for something higher!

How do we do that?

John Heyward said, “Many hands make light work.” We need to reach out and educate everyone we represent about what OSEA stands for, what we do and how it benefits everybody. It’s not a tough ask; it is achievable. If every member made contact with just one nonmember, I think we could easily reach an 80 percent membership goal — or even better.

This is nothing new. We have been doing this type of work since 1938. Those OSEA leaders and member who went before us — THE STRONG ROOTS OF OUR ORGANIZATION — were faced with a lot of the same challenges we face today. It was their perseverance, their vision and their sheer guts that built this mighty union. I stand here today to tell you the State of OUR Union is OUTSTANDING.

There is an old Malay proverb that reads “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.” With each and every one of us working together, strengthening our roots and fortifying our trunk and branches, we will weather the storm ahead and INDEED HAVE A STRONG FUTURE.

Thank you!

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