A Memorable Conference Opening

Teacher-turned-comedian Sharon Lacey delivers the Conference 2017 keynote address on Thursday night.

Conference 2017 kicked off with revamped opening ceremonies that included comedian Sharon Lacey, a bigger-than-ever Parade of Banners, the crowning of a new OSEA Employee of the Year and a tribute to recently passed former OSEA President and Field Representative Leota Clark.

Central Chapter 124 President Denise Chase was formally recognized as OSEA’s 2017 Employee of the Year with the customary crown, sash and more honors to continue throughout the weekend.

As public sector labor unions brace for likely tumultuous times under an anti-worker-majority U.S. Supreme Court, Congress and president, Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain reminded the audience that unions today are the product of incalculable sacrifice.

“Today we stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Chamberlain, who referenced the labor battles and massacres of workers who were catalysts for major union organizing. “As individuals, they were powerless. Their power came from collectives. And they took on the most powerful in America. … they educated, motivated and organized their way across America. Imagine their determination and their sacrifice.”

He said the “1 percenters” are coming after labor as usual, but this time the difference is the elite are seeking to destroy the rights of working people to effectively organize and bargain for fair working conditions.

“If folks, such as you and I, don’t step up to the challenge, the future of our children will look more like the early 1900s than the lifestyle you and I enjoy today,” Chamberlain said. “I will not go quietly into the night!”

Sherman Henry from the Labor Education and Resource Center (LERC) at the University of Oregon extolled the center’s evolving programs, including an upcoming summer school for unionists.

Chuck Sheketoff, the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP), shared how harmful the proposed Trumpcare legislation, aka the American Health Care Act, would be to working families, including many of the students we serve.

“We share an interest in helping the little guy,” Sheketoff said. “You do it every day with your students, with your brothers and your sister in your union, and with the vulnerable in our society.”

OSEA President Tim Stoelb recognized Sheketoff, who is leaving OCPP, with a distinguished service award.

Stoelb also commemorated Clark’s life. Born in 1934, Clark was sent west by her parents as a child to live with relatives in Oregon. Her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter were in attendance to receive the honor.

Teacher-turned-comedian Lacey shared humorous stories of her time in the classroom and the lighter side of education, but she also reminded attendees that every single person in a child’s life matters.

“Turn your challenges into opportunities,” she said. “The students and their families need you not to give up on them. Whoever you are and whatever your job is, you are needed and your students are counting on you.”