Alluding to this year’s Conference theme (‘Carrying the Torch’), OSEA President Tim Stoelb said our union’s flame is still burning bright after 78 years and gave an upbeat assessment of the state of our union Friday.
“As in the past, a message is being delivered (with this year’s theme),” Stoelb said. “The message, however, is not ‘the thrill of victory and agony of defeat,’ but rather the discipline, commitment and hard work that individuals and groups embrace to achieve a common goal.”
He paid tribute to past members, as well as many of the delegates in attendance, for their contribution to the union’s success through the years. Stoelb then acknowledged that the torch of leadership is in the process of being passed to a new generation of members.
“The generation of Baby Boomers is quickly becoming the retiring Senior Boomers,” he said. “For seasoned members, our job is to prepare those who follow.”
Part of that preparation, he said, is to answer the questions: “Why union and why OSEA?” He said newcomers need to know why members carry the OSEA torch.
Stoelb said the union is delivering on its member priorities. In the past academic year, OSEA has launched major initiatives aimed at boosting union membership and providing members the training necessary to deal with difficult bargaining challenges.
Stoelb also pointed out that unions “dodged” a bullet with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-4 decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which maintained the legal status quo allowing unions to negotiate “fair share” contract language.
“What we won was more time to make future challenges to fair share irrelevant to our success as a union,” he said. “We celebrate the gift of time to really win the fight to retain fair share.”
OSEA’s Worksite Organizer and Chapter Leadership programs are key to making that possible, Stoelb said. These programs are designed to create supportive, engaged and active members.
Stoelb closed his State of the Union address by telling the audience he was “proud of all our members for the job they do … together we are carrying the torch.”
The following is the full text of OSEA’s 2016 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.
There are many “unsung heroes” with us today. They are the local chapter presidents and executive board members. In chapters large and small, our local leaders spend many hours of their time representing, serving and advocating for their members. As a chapter president myself, I know our local leaders rarely get the recognition — or receive all the thanks — they deserve.
So, will the chapter presidents and executive board members here today please stand?
Delegates, let’s give these leaders a hardy round of applause.
Now, before you sit down, I’d also like us to recognize those with us today who serve in their chapter as a steward, worksite organizer, committee member, CLC delegate for their chapter or otherwise help out in some way. If this describes you, please stand with us. Take a look around on the floor ladies and gentlemen. This is what we mean when we talk about a member’s union! We’re all in it together.
I would like to thank each of you for the work you do in our chapters! Let’s have another round of applause for each of you.
Please be seated.
Each year, we see new faces at Conference. They are members from chapters throughout the state who are attending Conference for the first time.
Would our first timer delegates here today please stand?
Delegates, let’s give them a big OSEA welcome.
Delegates, this is the 78th annual OSEA Conference. As your state president, this is my fourth time to serve as chair of this gathering of member delegates who serve as the governing body of OSEA for the next two days.
Each Conference has a theme, complete with a graphic representation and color scheme. Our Conference banner proclaims the theme, as do the writing pads and other Conference materials — an annual tradition since 1959. Over the years, the themes have normally been direct, but sometimes subtle in their meaning
In 2013, my first year as chair, the theme was “Strong-Proud-Growing.” In 2014, it was “Coming Together in Unity,” and in 2015 it was “Building a Strong Tomorrow.” These themes were adopted during the worst period of the Great Recession. They were a message of strength, even in times of adversity.
This year, our theme is “Carrying the Torch.” And, as in the past, a message is being delivered. The fact this is an Olympic Games year, which helped develop the theme and logo, is probably not lost on anyone. The message, however, is not “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat,” but rather the discipline, commitment and hard work that individuals and groups embrace to achieve a common goal.
This year’s message is direct and timely for OSEA. Those who came before us — and many of the delegates here today — have kept OSEA’s flame burning bright for nearly eight decades. Through good times and tough times, it has never dimmed.
Our first timers are an example of what is slowly, but steadily, occurring in OSEA and throughout our country. The generation of Baby Boomers is quickly becoming the retiring Senior Boomers. For seasoned members, our job is to prepare those who follow. To paraphrase our 35th president, John Kennedy, the torch is being passed to a new generation of OSEA members.
Part of that preparation is to remind ourselves — and share with others — why union; why OSEA. We must tell our stories of victories and struggles to new members. We need to tell them why we care. Why we carry the OSEA torch.
From my perspective:
- We carry the OSEA torch to keep the labor movement alive and labor unions intact.
- We carry the OSEA torch for workers and economic justice.
- We carry the OSEA torch to increase wages and reverse decades of wage stagnation.
- We carry the OSEA torch to make health care affordable for our members and all Oregonians.
- We carry the OSEA torch to ensure that the promises of retirement income and benefits are kept.
- We carry the OSEA torch to hold our employers accountable to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
- We carry the OSEA torch to promote and retain the rights of workers to organize, collectively bargain on a level playing field and maintain the right of employers and unions to bargain “fair share” language in those collective bargaining agreements.
- We carry the OSEA torch for the 700,000 students in Oregon K-12 schools, community colleges and universities who need a quality education in order to participate fully in the governance of our state and country, as well as reach their full potential.
- We carry the OSEA torch to remind everyone that we are a nation of immigrants and every person in America is part of the success of our economic, social and political environment; everyone should share fairly in the rewards.
- We carry the OSEA torch because — without the balance of strong labor unions in our political, social and economic systems — the greed and power of the few will cripple the many, as happened during the Gilded Age of U.S. history.
The State of the Union address is all about telling the stories of OSEA members and their union. It is all about what we do as a union at the local bargaining table and in the state Capitol and halls of Congress. It’s about what we do in the community and at the ballot box. It’s about how we impact the lives of Oregon’s students and citizens.
Delegates, Conference is the embodiment of our tag line “A Member’s Union.”
We have defined “A Member’s Union” as a member-controlled and directed union that reflects the character and spirit of its members, who individually and collectively are responsible for its identity and success.
This State of the Union address is the starting point for our delegates to begin their work as the governing body of OSEA. Over the next two days, the decisions made by the delegate body will set our direction for the coming year and challenge each of us individually and collectively to be successful.
For the past three years, OSEA has used the results of our 2013 membership survey as a guide to meet the expectations our members have of their union. The survey identified five member priorities:
Preventing reduction of hours of work below benefit levels
Direct representation for members facing grievances in the workplace
Electing state and local officials who support issues important to classified employees
More leadership trainings/support with difficult bargaining challenges
Strengthen lobbying with the state on issues important to our members
Since that survey, Executive Director Rick Shidaker and I have used what we call the “Road Trip” as a vehicle to meet and engage our leaders and members throughout the state. Our normal schedule for the Road Trip is a total of 16 stops across the state. Meeting and talking with members and chapter leaders and assessing their needs are top priorities that are shared by Rick and me. Although we talked a lot at these meetings, we also had the opportunity to listen.
One of the five priorities identified in our 2013 survey was the need for more leadership training opportunities. This need was echoed during our 2014 “Road Trip” and was expressed especially by new leaders who had been recently elected to chapter officer positions.
In response, your OSEA Board of Directors, state committee and staff members got busy reviewing and revising OSEA’s Chapter Leadership Manual. Once complete, a leadership training package was developed that focused on the duties and responsibilities of the executive board, as well as of the individual officers. The training was keyed to specific sections of the manual and included problem-solving exercises.
This year, Rick and I conducted two sets of Road Trips. The first set was held in the fall as an add-on to zone director meetings with a total of 16 stops. During these sessions, we took the opportunity to promote the Chapter Leadership Training and Worksite Organizer programs and encourage our members to sign up.
In March, we began delivery of the Chapter Leadership Training program. This initial cycle of training sessions had relatively good attendance. A total of 13 stops were made by Rick and me across all of the zones. The training sessions had attendees from 39 chapters and was met with very positive reviews.
Eventually this training will be available “on demand” and provided by the field representatives within their respective zones.
Our goal is obviously to ensure this training continues and reaches every chapter in the state. If you would like to schedule this training for your chapter leaders, please contact either your field representative or myself.
At this time last year, I talked to the Conference delegates about a U.S. Supreme Court case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This case was to be argued before the court to determine whether or not “fair share” language in our collective bargaining agreements was constitutional. Fair share is language negotiated into a bargaining agreement that acknowledges the union, as exclusive representative, has the ability to collect the equivalent of association dues from non-member employees for the cost of representation.
The Friedrichs case was heard on Jan. 11 this year, and, from all accounts, the conservative majority was expected to declare fair share unconstitutional. The impact of such a decision would have been devastating for OSEA and all other labor unions.
But everything changed with Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. Without Scalia, the conservatives couldn’t muster the deciding vote. The court’s subsequent 4-4 ruling in March maintained the legal status quo allowing unions to negotiate fair share.
Let me be clear: We didn’t win Friedrichs. We dodged a bullet. What we won was more time to make future challenges to fair share irrelevant to our success as a union. We celebrate the gift of time to really win the fight to retain fair share.
We all know that a supportive, engaged and active membership is the true measure of our strength. At our high point in the 2009-10 academic year, OSEA represented 21,584 classified employees.
Then the impact of the Great Recession began to cripple school funding, and, over a three-year period, our representation numbers dropped to 19,331 — a loss of more than 2,200 members and fee payers. It was the low point for OSEA.
The number of OSEA-represented workers started to slowly rebound in the 2013-14 academic year. Today, we have nearly reached our high point of represented workers.
While this is promising news, the total number of represented employees who have become members (in other words, those who signed a membership card) is 2,000 less than in 2009. That is one reason for OSEA’s focus this year on membership.
The first step in increasing membership in every chapter is to make sure each and every person in our bargaining units has been asked to be a member and that they understand why union; why OSEA.
The goal is to ensure each represented employee in our chapters is aware of OSEA. This must be a goal all chapters embrace whether their collective bargaining agreement has fair share language or not. In our 2013 survey, when non-members were asked why they were not members, 59 percent responded that “they were never asked.”
Our new worksite organizer training is designed to help each chapter be successful in signing up new members and maintaining a high membership over time. OSEA committed the same staff resources that helped develop this training to delivering it. Chapter leaders need only to make a request, reserve a training room and recruit current building employee representatives (BERs) and other interested members to attend. It is that easy.
In February, OSEA began delivering the worksite organizer training. The first session was held on Feb. 9. Since then, 45 chapters have held the training with a total of 258 members having attended. The worksite training program is very popular and helpful. Our members leave this training engaged and eager to get out there and talk to their fellow employees.
We are already seeing an uptick in membership since February (489 new members), but this growth is from merely a fraction of our chapters. Imagine what we can do with all chapters having trained worksite organizers.
I urge all chapter leaders who have not scheduled a worksite organizer training to do so here at Conference. To schedule a training session for your chapter, simply go to the organizing table and sign up.
As all of you know, OSEA members are being hurt on the job every workday by the students they serve and educate.
Starting with a three-part series titled Work Shouldn’t Hurt and published in the OSEA Journal, we began an aggressive internal and external campaign to bring attention to these uncontrolled assaults. Our mantra has been Work Shouldn’t Hurt, and our goal is to ensure safe schools for all.
Delegates, this issue is real and cuts across the entire education community. The fact that it directly impacts certified as well as classified employees caused the Oregon Education Association (OEA) and AFT-Oregon to join our campaign. The other two AFT affiliates, the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals (OFNHP) and the Oregon Nurses Association (ONA), having similar problems in their workplaces, have proclaimed their support and partnership.
Through the year, OSEA made Work Shouldn’t Hurt a part of every meeting, every conference and took every opportunity to expose the truth of what is happening to classified and certified staff working in special education classrooms, as well as regular classrooms in Oregon.
In the beginning of our campaign, very few members stood up and shared their stories of being assaulted by students. Notably, two of our Board members — Zone 1 Director Kathy Forbes and Zone VI Director Monica McCanna — gave OSEA approval to use their names and photos when communicating their testimonies. Their courage helped spur many more of our members to tell their stories. The majority of stories have been submitted by special education assistants. Members are still reluctant to give us permission to use their name, but their stories alone are invaluable.
However, stories alone will not move school board members, state legislators, congressional representatives or federal agencies such as OSHA to support corrective action. In our data-driven society, facts and figures are absolutely necessary to validate the statements our members have made regarding assaults and types of injuries sustained from students.
In April of this year, our Work Shouldn’t Hurt coalition recruited the assistance of the national AFT to develop a survey of its members. Working with Darryl Alexander, AFT’s director of health, safety and well-being, an online survey was developed and launched in late May.
By June 9, nearly 2,000 surveys had been submitted. Today, we have preliminary survey data that provide solid numbers on the frequency of assaults, types of injuries, the response of education administrators to the assaults and much more information that will help us take the necessary steps to reduce, if not prevent, workplace violence aimed at our members.
I applaud all OSEA members who participated in the survey. This campaign for Safe Schools for All will continue into the next school year and beyond until we are satisfied our members’ safety is a top priority in every education facility across Oregon. Please visit the Health and Safety table to get more information about our ongoing Work Shouldn’t Hurt campaign.
I have talked to you about who we are and the reasons for all of us to be carrying the OSEA torch for members, our union and the students we serve. You have heard about the new Chapter Leadership and Worksite Organizer programs and why having these trainings are so important for our union as we move forward in the year ahead.
I have also provided you an update on one of the most important campaigns we have ever launched, called Work Shouldn’t Hurt-Safe Schools for All.
Each of these is a part of OSEA’s continuing work to meet the needs and expectations of our members.
A State of the Union address would not be complete without looking back at this past academic year. It is important to hear of our successes and challenges. Highlighting the past will help delegates in making the decisions at this 78th Conference that will help shape our future.
The work of providing chapter and member representation, advocacy and service rests mainly with chapter leaders and OSEA staff. How well we do in contract negotiations, administration and governance is the barometer our members use to measure the effectiveness of our union.
Our full complement of field representatives, together with chapter leaders, has allowed us to win the best contracts possible, ensure continued direct and effective representation, and, as always, provide honest and steadfast advocacy to our members in 141 chapters.
Through our member’s eyes, the chapter president and assigned field staff and organizers are the union. It is easy to forget there is a full contingent of staff and managers who support and guide those efforts.
For two years, after the departure of our former executive director, the position of director of field operations (DFO) was left vacant. During that time, our current Executive Director Rick Shidaker served double duty, taking on the daunting task of working both as executive director and DFO. I must tell you, he did an absolutely stellar job.
Much to Rick’s relief, we were able to fill the DFO position this past year. Although Rick will be doing staff introductions later during this conference, I am going to exercise a moment of presidential privilege and introduce our new director of field operations.
Many of you knew her as the AFT benefits staffer here in Oregon for several years.
I am happy to say she is now a part of the OSEA management team and officially a “First Timer.” Hired in December, she has been a quick learner and done a great job. Delegates, let’s give a grand welcome to DFO Susan Miller; Susan, please stand up and give us a wave.
This year the DFO, field staff and chapter members were very busy:
- 107 new stewards were trained
- 71 contracts settled
- 17 grievances were brought to arbitration
- 6 unfair labor practices were filed; we won three and lost two, with
- 1 decision pending
- And our field staff settled hundreds of grievances at the informal level or first step of the grievance process
I am proud of the hard work our field staff accomplishes for our members, whether its contract negotiations, contract administration or being that “go to” resource for our chapter leaders and members.
As members of OSEA, part of our calling is to grow the organization. Throughout this year, the organizing department’s focus has been on member engagement — be it in the Worksite Organizer program, AFT Back-to-School Campaign drives in other states, First Book distributions or educating the community. Here are a few of the highlights:
Member Organizing Summer Institute (MOSI) 2015 — In July, 14 members from 12 chapters attended our annual Member Organizing Summer Institute (MOSI). The training intensely focused on the importance of one-on-one employee outreach and conversation skills for union activists. To put their training into action, all of the MOSI participants paired up and did house visits to some OSEA classified living in the Salem area.
AFT Back-to-School Campaign — OSEA continued its participation in the AFT Back-to-School Campaign effort. This past summer, 20 OSEA members and staff traveled to Alabama and Louisiana to help local AFT unions sign up members for the year.
Eugene ASL Interpreters — In May, our Eugene Chapter 1 American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters stood up to demand fairness in wages and benefits and for workplace justice. Many of our members packed a Eugene School Board meeting and gave testimony in order to get the district’s attention. This is an ongoing campaign that has the full support of the chapter and OSEA.
First Book — By now, everyone here has probably heard or read about OSEA participation in First Book. This program was brought to us by AFT national as a community and student outreach to help end illiteracy. The goal of First Book is to get books in the hands of low-income students at all grade levels. For the past three years, OSEA chapters have stepped up to sponsor their own First Book distribution drives. This year, Sweet Home Chapter 3, Woodburn Chapter 25 and Beaverton Chapter 48 each held a drive. Together, these chapters distributed 80,000 free books to students this year.
Since 2012, OSEA members have been able to distribute roughly 150,000 free, new books with First Book. And there’s more to come: Looking ahead, we also have drives going on in Eugene Chapter 1, Central Point Chapter 47, Phoenix-Talent Chapter 96 and Medford Chapter 15.
Other national locations that hold First Book distributions usually have assistance from AFT PSRP staff to coordinate the event. I would like to mention that all of OSEA’s First Book events have been coordinated by our own chapter members.
Delegates here from chapters that have participated or are currently working on a First Book distribution, please stand. Folks, let’s give them a big round of applause. If you would like more information concerning First Book, take a few minutes and have a conversation with Tom Moran or any of those individuals who were just standing.
The past year has been an eventful one for our Government Relations Office (GRO). Directly after Conference 2015, GRO brought back our Temporary Project Staff program using the theme of last year’s Conference: “Building A Strong Tomorrow.” The focus of this program was to reach as many members as possible to educate them about the attacks on fair share, confirm contact information and promote to chapter leaders the need to have a system to maintain current member contact information. Fifteen members from regions throughout the state were hired for six weeks to work the program.
In total, these temporary project staff members contacted more than 4,000 members, had one-on-one conversations with 50 chapter leaders and identified more than 2,500 changes in contact information.
The work we do in the schools on a daily basis, the staffing levels of support programs, the reporting requirements we must adhere to, the policies we must abide by, the salaries and benefits we receive and the conditions we work under are all a result of what happens in the state and federal capitol buildings.
OSEA realized some key legislative victories during the February 2016 short session. This legislation included sick leave for all working Oregonians, access to a retirement plan for all Oregonians and an increase in the minimum wage that will immediately impact more than 200,000 low-wage Oregon workers.
Election season is upon us. OSEA took the lead and endorsed two long-standing friends for elected office. Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) Commissioner Brad Avakian both received our endorsement for the office of governor and secretary of state, respectively. And I’m happy to say that both successfully defeated their primary challengers.
Chapters stepped up during the May elections in support of local bond levies, local option levies, endorsed school board candidates and city council candidates. Ultimately, four of the six OSEA-endorsed levies were successful. Also noteworthy was the defeat of a long-time incumbent Salem City Council member by an OSEA-endorsed candidate.
Earlier this month, Initiative Petition (IP) 28, which raises taxes on business revenue above $25 million, was certified to be on the November ballot. OSEA whole-heartedly supports this measure. If passed, it will provide much needed education revenue that will be used to meet the standards of education as defined in Oregon’s Quality Education Model. This initiative qualified as a result of a lot of hard work by classified and certified staff working together in each district to get the signatures necessary. The next hurdle we face is to get it passed.
OSEA has been working with our affiliates on behalf of our members for a number of years. These organizations give us national exposure we would otherwise not have. They continue to support OSEA and serve as a vehicle for our member priorities at the national level.
In October, OSEA welcomed AFT President Randi Weingarten to Oregon. She took time to visit our Mt. Hood Community College Head Start members and students. A small First Book donation was made to the school during the event and President Weingarten entertained students with a little painting, games and story reading.
This year will mark AFT’s 100th Anniversary at their convention in Minneapolis. Part of the convention is recognizing the Everyday Heroes in each of AFT’s divisions. OSEA is proud to have had two finalists for this prestigious award in the PSRP division. Don Dolan, a bus driver from Sherwood School District was nominated for his role in putting on a carnival for special-needs students. Luigi Quintos, a driver-courier for the Willamette ESD Employees Association, was nominated for his hand-sketched portraits of children and young adults who have passed away.
There are so many more stories I could share about the success and good work we accomplished this past year. I can only hope what I have shared shows we have worked hard to meet our member’s expectations. The State of our Union is outstanding.
I have said this before, and I will say it again: We are a “Member’s Union!” I am proud of our members who serve on the OSEA Board, proud of chapter leaders who fulfill their oath to serve their members and promote OSEA, proud of all our members for the job they do for students and for the hours of time they volunteer working for their union. Together we are carrying the torch.