OSEA, AFT Bridge Financial GAP

By OSEA President Tim Stoelb

AFT President Randi Weingarten, left, takes a moment from delivering the keynote address at Conference 2018 to present, from left, OSEA President Tim Stoelb, Vice President Ma’Lena Wirth and Secretary Mary Hofer with an AFT Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel (PSRP) Organizing Award in recognition of OSEA’s All In Membership Campaign. Shortly after, Weingarten and the OSEA Board of Directors reached a verbal agreement by which AFT will provide $600,000 in assistance to help shore up OSEA’s budget deficit caused by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME.

Despite the hard work our chapters did this past spring, OSEA — along with every other public-sector union across the country — suffered a big setback on June 27 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the collection of fair-share fees was unconstitutional. On that day, OSEA lost roughly $1.8 million in revenue and faced a gaping hole in our annual budget.

This is not a problem that can simply be fixed by the stroke of a pen, nor is this a problem that is expected to be shouldered by staff.

Conference delegates discussed the possibility of disaffiliating from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) as one way to address our budget dilemma. But many members expressed they did not want to lose access to the benefits and resources AFT provides. In the end, delegates took no action.

To present and pass a balanced budget as required by our Constitution, we had to make preliminary reductions to the staff line item. But this does not mean we have decided to lay off staff. Ultimately the OSEA Board of Directors and management have the discretion to determine how best to shore up the financial hole.

In anticipation of an unfavorable Janus decision, we reached out to AFT to see if there was any help available for us. Through multiple discussions with AFT President Randi Weingarten, the OSEA Board of Directors was able to reach a growth and stabilization agreement that spans a 12-month period. This agreement included a $400,000 grant along with access to other AFT revenue streams in the form of solidarity, legal defense, rebate and formula assistance funds that amount to more than $200,000. No repayment of these funds are required because they are grants and AFT constitutionally mandated revenue sources.

The total monetary support through this agreement — more than $600,000 — is certainly appreciated and will help us bridge some of the financial gap.

While we roughly knew what the immediate financial impact of Janus would be, our budget dilemma was further complicated by not knowing exactly how many members would decide to drop their membership because they could. The Freedom Foundation immediately focused on this opportunity and began flooding email inboxes with opt-out messages and scare tactics directed at districts. Admittedly, we have an uphill battle against those who wish to defund unions.

What the Freedom Foundation underestimated was the resilience of our members and staff. Our best recourse is to continue our focus on organizing. Our member activists easily see through the Freedom Foundation’s rhetoric. They’re letting their coworkers know why it is important to stick with OSEA.

As of this writing, more than 500 people have signed up to be new members through one-on-one conversations and back-to-school events. This is just a glimpse of what we are capable of doing. And I know we will do more with our membership campaigns again this year. We are “All In” this together!