Outgoing State President Tim Stoelb Delivers “State of The Union” Address at 2019 Conference

Conference 2019 took place in the week marking one year since Janus v. AFSCME. As outgoing President Tim Stoelb delivered his seventh State of the Union address, he highlighted ways in which anti-union activism has created challenges for OSEA in the last year – but also bolstered enthusiasm and loyalty among members.

Although OSEA had to make significant financial adjustments in the wake of the Janus decision, our union remains strong. As a result of sustained organizing efforts by staff, chapter leaders and activists, OSEA saw a net gain of over 1,600 new members this year. “As true unionists, we all know it takes a team to get the job done,” said Stoelb. “No one individual can do it all and be successful.”

OSEA continues to support and represent members on the job. Stoelb reported, “Tenacious chapter leaders and field representative teams negotiated significant increases in wages,” as well as other successes with benefits including professional development and paid time off.

He went on to report that at the Capitol, OSEA continues to represent the best interests of members and all working people in Oregon. The union saw wins in terms of dual insurance coverage and unemployment coverage for some classifications. Another promising moment was the passing of the School Success Act, which will provide an additional $2 billion per biennium to Oregon public schools. “This is great news for funding-starved districts and ultimately our employees, through salary increases and hiring additional staff,” said Stoelb. Although OSEA and our members were disappointed by cuts made to PERS despite labor and community opposition, the union will continue to fight for our members. “All I can say is, ‘see you in court!’” said Stoelb. “And for those who supported cutting our retirement benefits, shame on you. We will remember!”

Stoelb concluded his speech by looking back at his seven years as OSEA president. “Every year has its successes and setbacks. And we’ve weathered it all together. I believe our hard work has made us stronger. I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity and privilege to be a part of it. And now it is time for me to move on and make room for a new leader of this stellar organization.”

Related story: Results from Conference 2019 elections and resolutions

Video of the speech and a full transcript are below.

Good morning, delegates.

Welcome to our 81st annual Conference! The energy in this room is exciting. I look around and see the smiles, people getting reacquainted and new friendships already being made. As you know, this is the time of year when our delegates gather to make the decisions that impact the direction of our organization for the coming year. It’s our members that have driven this organization since 1938. And it will be our members that continue to drive OSEA into the future.

But before I get into the nuts and bolts from this past year, I would like to take a moment and ask our local chapter leaders, stewards, worksite organizers and other chapter activists to please stand at this time and be recognized. These people represent the core strength of OSEA. I would like to thank each of you for the work you do in our chapters!

As with each year, we have a good number coming to this event for the very first time. Your interest in OSEA’s Conference and our democratic process is something that can only be best experienced firsthand. I certainly hope this will be a positive experience that you will never forget. This year, we have registered 82 first time delegates in the audience from across the state and chapters large and small. Would our first time delegates please stand? Delegates, let’s give them a big welcoming applause.

As true unionists, we all know it takes a team to get the job done. No one individual can do it all and be successful. OSEA is extremely blessed to have a strong contingent of staff working tirelessly together with our chapter leadership. I want to take this opportunity for us to recognize the resolute efforts our staff provided to our chapters and organization this year. Delegates, please join me in thanking our staff.

Many of you here today recall the elephant in the room at the start of last year’s Conference. Public sector unions across the United States had just taken a massive broadside hit from the Supreme Court. Yesterday marks exactly one year since that fateful day when the Janus decision hit the street.

While this ruling was not unexpected, it nonetheless was quite a shocking moment. We did have to make adjustments to the budget, close three field offices and take other conservative spending measures to compensate for the revenue loss. These actions, coupled with a $400,000 AFT stabilization grant and access to other AFT affiliate assistance funds, helped to minimize the damage and prevent a catastrophic impact to member services.

Over the course of this past year, we did lose some members as a direct result of the Janus decision. Contrary to “Fake News” the Freedom Foundation put on their website earlier this year, OSEA has not lost 30% of our membership. The figure they were so proud to boast about actually included the initial loss of fair share payers and it was not a result of their anti-union efforts against us.

Our staff and chapter leaders continued to emphasize the importance of union membership with current and potential members. Our folks certainly got the message and chose to stick with our union! Despite the loss of fair share, despite the opt outs, despite the best efforts of the Freedom Foundation – OSEA is still very much alive and well!

Admittedly, this past year has had its share of ups and downs. Every arena we as an organization participated in – elections, organizing, employee representation, legislative, training – has brought us challenges but also great rewards, which I’ll address shortly. It is the love we – the OSEA Board, Past Presidents, lifetime members, staff, chapter leaders, ROSE retirees and activists – have for our union that keeps us going. Together, we have fought long and hard to get where we are today.

It’s also about the love and compassion for our fellow members. The OSEA Member Assistance Fund is a program within OSEA that provides emergency assistance to members in need due to death, serious illness, injury or disaster. It is supported by unused scholarship dollars, donations and fundraising efforts, some of which you will hopefully participate in this weekend.

I mention this program in particular because, over the past few years, we have seen a much higher number of requests come in for help. This year alone, 53 members received aid from the Member Assistance Fund, in the amount of $15,900, to help them through very difficult times. Helping our fellow members in their struggles is just one shining example of what unionism is all about. On behalf of those recipients of assistance, I’d like to thank you all for your generosity. During the course of conference, there are opportunities bolster this fund and, if you can, I am asking for your help.

Were it not for our steadfast advocacy on behalf of our members, OSEA, as we know it, would cease to exist. Our Conference theme this year, “Member Driven”, is a testimony to what our members mean to this organization. This weekend we are here to celebrate our accomplishments – and map out our challenges ahead – together in solidarity.

Now let me get into some details about this past year.

Elections: OSEA-Endorsed Political Candidates Won Big

This year was the year to make the push for education investment. All around the country, educators walked out to bring attention to the critical lack of funding for education. Of course, to make a wish become a reality here in Oregon, we needed to ensure we had the support for education in both our Legislature and the governor’s seat. Interviews were conducted with candidates, endorsements were made and numerous hours were volunteered by our members to ensure our candidates succeeded. Through the hard work of our members, we were successful in achieving super majorities in both houses and retaining the governor’s seat. Statistically speaking, we were successful in 47 out of 62 races which equals just under a 77% margin. This success set the stage for the largest school funding boost Oregon has seen in years.

And our success didn’t stop there. The vast majority of school bond measures that OSEA supported passed and this brought much needed funding for facility improvements in districts around the state. School board elections brought even more support for classified employees through the election of labor-friendly school board candidates. Endorsed Gordon Lafer won his bid for a seat in Eugene. Lake Oswego endorsed candidates Kirsten Aird and John Wallin both won their respective school board elections. Having individuals across the table during contract negotiations who truly understand the issues facing classified employees helps us make gains in the workplace.

Organizing: Our Membership Remains Strong

Our initial hit on the heels of the Janus decision was, of course, fair share and membership drops. What we did know was how many fair share payers were going to become non-paying benefactors of OSEA services. What we could not anticipate was the number of membership drops. The initial hit over the summer was averaging 40-50 per week but that eventually settled down due to the hard work put in by chapter leaders, activists and staff of educating our members as the year progressed.

The onslaught by the Freedom Foundation continued by email, multiple mass mailings and texting. A billboard advertisement in Bend prompting public employees to “Opt out and give yourself a raise” was one of those early attacks. This billboard ad ran for over four months, possibly even longer than that. This ad drew the ire of our very own State Secretary Mary Hofer, who submitted an opinion letter to the local paper that not only highlighted the deliberate purpose of the billboard to deceive readers but also boldly stressed the importance of union membership and what it has to offer. This candid article drew the attention of AFT National who, in turn, promoted it nationwide to their potential 1.7 million readers. I would like to just add here that the billboard ad conspicuously came down the day after her letter was published.

I highlight Mary’s article for one simple reason – it’s about educating those we represent and advocating for the strength of solidarity. If one member’s voice can be heard and can make a difference, imagine what success we could accomplish if all of us spoke up, shared our experiences and educated our coworkers?

Last year we kicked off our campaigns with the first Leadership Summit in Eugene. The results of that summit netted over 3,700 new members. That surge of membership most certainly helped us withstand the initial hit in June 2018. It was obviously clear that membership recruitment had to again be the number one priority across the board.

This year, turnover, coupled with members opting out and the loss of fair share, created a unique challenge for chapters. At the end of June last year, OSEA was representing just below 22,000 classified employees in 139 chapters around the state.

We held our second summit, ALL IN II, in January in Portland with 111 members representing 42 chapters in attendance. Training for all attendees was provided by LERC and OSEA staff. Wrapping up the day were work sessions with chapters and their respective field reps and organizers. Commitments for training and membership campaigns were gained from each chapter. Time release was provided for the volunteers through the OSEA State Office which helped free up these people to do the work of the union.

55 chapters conducted back-to-school and inservice events. Forty chapters held formal membership campaigns and recruitment activities. Every opportunity to highlight what the union has to offer to members and potential members was taken. And information sessions continued throughout the school year at every possible venue; chapter meetings, zone meetings, email notices and training sessions.

Many of our members and chapters were involved with local community events through the course of the year including Labor Day picnics, Christmas celebrations, central labor chapter activities and the annual Causa May Day rally. These events helped to spark the interest of potential new members as well.

The end result? OSEA saw a net gain of over 1,600 new members this year. Overall, out of the almost 23,000 employees we now represent, over 15,000 have chosen to either become or remain active members, which represents a 67% membership overall.

And then there’s the highly successful Membership Incentive Program, otherwise known as MIP. We continued the program again this year to help us with chapter growth, especially facing the challenges we were experiencing. To recap:

Chapters with a 70% to 79% membership rate received 3% of their annual state dues.
Chapters with a 80% to 94% membership rate received 5% of their annual state dues.
Chapters with a 95% to 100% membership rate received 10% of their annual state dues.
At the May 1, 2019, deadline this year, we had over 80 chapters achieve or maintain a 70% or higher membership level. Later during Conference, we will be recognizing the efforts of those chapters.

Field Operations: Fighting for Fair Contracts for School Employees

This has been a noteworthy year of gains for our chapters through negotiations, grievance wins, successful litigation, multiple chapter trainings and active participation in membership recruitment actions. Whether our achievements were triggered by the challenges brought about by anti-union entities or just plain and simple hard work, this year we’ve added remarkable new language and wage increases to further benefit our workers and their families.

Past years were often hampered by conditions outside of our control which limited advancements to our contracts. I am happy to report this was a banner year for our negotiating teams around the state. Tenacious chapter leaders and field representative teams negotiated significant increases in wages – in some circumstances as much as 19%. Other wage increases in dozens of positions through reclassifications saw bumps of up to $5.00 more an hour!

Across the state, several chapters saw changes with regard to paid professional, personal, inclement weather and vacation days along with clear definitions of how those days may be used or cashed out. In some contracts, we were able to strengthen safety, layoff notice and contracting out language; secure Just Cause and Binding Arbitration for unsettled grievances; set progressive discipline pillars and even reinstate furlough days. We successfully added contract language for paid time off for cancer screenings, established new classified worker committees and secured benefits even if hours of work decreased during the course of the year.

This year, with the expert help of our field staff, OSEA members won all litigations and nearly every grievance filed, and we gained monetary settlements for members of nearly $11,000 collectively.

Equally important to continuing the momentum to strengthen our units, we added language across the state that allows the Union access to some employer-sponsored events. This access will allow us to foster even more activism and participation and will serve to help build relationships.

All told, our field representatives are committed to the success of each chapter. This year, they provided over fifty leadership and steward trainings and participated in forty membership drive campaigns. These activities were in addition to the 91 open contracts that are either settled or in progress.

Every single success this year is due to an intense combination of effective conversations between field staff and chapters coupled with building strong and durable relationships. Our work and our strategies adapt and evolve, but the heart of OSEA will always be our members’ commitment to the students they serve, respect for one another and enhancing the lives of school employees and their families.

Government Relations: Better Laws for Working People

As I mentioned earlier, the election results of 2018 brought hope to OSEA members that legislative victories were on the horizon. The 2019 Legislative Session did, in fact, bring significant wins for OSEA members. At the beginning of the session, OSEA had submitted or endorsed bills to:

  • HB 2674 – Refine contracting out language
  • HB 2675 – Reinstate dual insurance coverage and opt-out for eligible employees
  • HB 2660 – Securing unemployment insurance during summer months for some classifications
  • HB 2676 – Additional considerations for SPED funding
  • HJM 3 – Direct Congress to fully fund IDEA

We held LED, as is tradition during full session years, storming the State Capitol with over 100 activists on March 4 and lobbying for those bills of greatest importance to us. And we had some success. We won reinstatement of dual insurance coverage. We were able to secure unemployment coverage for some classifications. Directing Congress to fully fund IDEA won passage in both chambers with 85 out of 90 representatives supporting the bill. Sadly, contracting out language did not survive committee review. Our SPED funding bill was partially addressed in the Student Success Act.

Probably the two biggest bills that were signed into law this year hold the greatest impact on our members.

Prior to session, the Joint Committee on Student Success made its way around the state holding public forums to get feedback from communities concerning what the expectations are for education. Many of our activist members attended and spoke at these forums, providing insight from a classified employee’s perspective on what schools need. This committee came back to Salem and crafted HB 3427, which, if it survives a possible referendum challenge, will establish a gross receipts tax on corporations with an excess of $1 million in annual revenue. Out of that tax, a projected figure of $2 billion per biennium in funding will be directed to Oregon public schools. This is great news for funding-starved districts and ultimately our employees, through salary increases and hiring additional staff to help reduce the workload.

Besides lobbying efforts, Oregon Education Association called for a statewide walkout of their members on May 8. As this walk-out held no guarantees that our members would not be impacted by the event, we, as an organization, chose to leave the decision up to our individual chapters whether to join with the teachers for the walkouts. Instead, the OSEA Board of Directors chose to do a walk-in at the State Capitol a few days earlier and handed out red boutonnieres and cards encouraging legislators to support our students and vote in favor of the funding bill.

Unfortunately, there was a trade-off to the funding bill. Legislator support only came on the premise there would be PERS reform to accompany it. In part, SB 1049 placed a dark cloud over our employee PERS benefit by redirecting a portion of IAP funds to a so-called PERS stability fund. Our members have endured reductions, furloughs, freezes and wage stagnation for many years. It is not our fault the fund managers made bad investments and the market crashed. Yet the state intends to make up the loss on the backs of our employees. This bill did have its difficulties getting through the chambers but was pushed through by the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate despite labor and some community opposition. All I can say here is – see you in court! And for those who supported cutting our retirement benefits – shame on you. We will remember!

At the national level, OSEA sent a small team to Washington, D.C., for the American Association of Classified School Employees (AACSE) annual conference. Mary Hofer was selected as the new AACSE president and attendees had the opportunity to lobby for bills with Congressional representatives. Two priorities that our teams lobbied included a demand for full funding of IDEA and passage of a bill crafted by AFT entitled Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Act. This bill, which eventually was passed in April, directs the Department of Education to establish a national recognition award for CLASSIFIED employees similar to the national Teacher of the Year. Our efforts on the Hill contributed to the success of this bill.

Member Education & Training

The Freedom Foundation stated in one of their articles that OSEA should focus on how to improve its services and make membership more appealing and worthwhile to workers. Ironically, it is their anti-union efforts that are trying to curb our ability to do just that. But, despite their efforts to defund us, OSEA and AFT have been able to place an emphasis on training this year and allow us to continue to organize and advocate for our members.

Last year, AFT put out a student debt survey to determine how wide-spread the effects of debt were on not only their own members but affiliates as well. The survey received over 10,000 responses. Of the 750 PSRP responses, 267 identified themselves as members of OSEA. These are individuals who have been carrying debt for years and were looking for help. Working with the AFT Higher Ed department, we were able to bring that help to Oregon. A total of 12 clinics were hosted by OSEA around the state and several more were hosted by other AFT locals. Over 250 of our members attended these meetings and, in almost every case, we were able to get them the help they desperately needed.

In addition to the clinics and all the other activities, we continued to develop our chapter leaders, worksite organizers and stewards within the state to better support the needs of classified employees. Thirty-nine chapters held WSO and membership drive trainings this year. Out of that, we now have 519 worksite organizers around the state with 120 of those new this year. This nearly 25% growth in WSO’s helped chapters with the initial contact of new employees.

Time and time again we see situations involving members in disciplinary situations that could have possibly been prevented with a little education. Last fall, we sent out a Professional Development Survey to find out what our members would find helpful for them in their jobs. This survey also included questions about what their most pressing issues were at work. In the vast majority of responses, information was provided about situations occurring at worksites that we knew nothing about. We were able to quickly correct many of these problems through the field representatives and chapter leadership. The more important piece of information we got was that it highlighted those “teachable moments” for us to develop into possible training topics and maybe prevent these issues in the first place.

Managing Student Behavior clearly stood way out in front when looking at topics. Another issue that rose to the top was respect for one another in the workplace. A little-known AFT program called Train-the-Trainer provides materials and presentation methods that help develop individuals to become presenters and facilitators.

This year’s PSRP Conference happened to have three Train-The-Trainer sessions that met this immediate need. With the AFT PSRP Division’s help, we sent two teams to take advantage of the offering. Two of the trainer topics, Managing Student Behavior and Diversity and Dignity in the Workplace, were presented in our workshops yesterday afternoon. I hope those who attended found them useful.

In addition, the PSRP Division provided trainers for two Effective Communications (public speaking) classes in Salem and Bend. Over 74 member leaders across the state have now benefitted from this valuable training.

I could go on and on about the great work we are doing for our members and the communities we serve. As an organization, we did exceptionally well given the unique challenges this year.

Challenges Facing OSEA

We have seen growth in our chapters. At this point in time, we have almost 23,000 employees we are now responsible for providing service. That’s almost a net increase of 1,000 from just last year. As district finances get better, new hiring will pick up which will continue to add to the number we must represent. I would not be surprised if we reach 24,000 employees in the near future.

Fiscally OSEA is on solid footing. However, the continued fluctuation of membership makes budget preparation and management a difficult task at best. Brad and Rick have done a stellar job projecting the budget expenses but it’s the uncertainty of the revenue figures that presents the most difficulty. The ultimate solution to this is stable and strong membership.

Our primary focus must be on building our membership to ensure this organization is financially sustainable. Our membership numbers need to keep pace with the size of the bargaining units. We need every chapter to be fully engaged with their eyes on the prize. Some chapters are going to need more help than others in order for that to happen. It will take a sizeable cadre of chapter activists working with our staff to realize success.

As an organization, we must continue to serve our chapters to the best of our ability. Our staff most definitely stepped it up this past year to maintain services to our chapters as best they could. As a result of tight funding and a hiring freeze, we did lose some very special people who will be hard to replace. Nonetheless, staff picked up the extra work due to the shortages and ensured chapter coverage continued at a steady level. I do not have to tell you that the increased workload is taking its toll. Maintaining a less than optimal staffing level is not a good option for any organization, let alone OSEA.

Last year, AFT stepped up to help stabilize our finances at a time when the future was uncertain. This year, they have agreed to help us again through supplemental funding for our vacant field staff and organizer positions. Funding assistance will also be provided for member organizers which will certainly help us with recruitment at the chapter level.

Providing professional development and other training opportunities for our membership is an area we will be expanding this coming year. AFT will be providing assistance to help further expand our pool of presenters through their train-the-trainer program. As we further develop our subject matter experts, more topics will be made available for regional delivery.

To be successful, we need to know what our members expect from our organization. You may recall we had Hart Research conduct a survey of members in 2013 to determine where OSEA was doing well and where we needed to improve. Out of that survey, we derived our top five priorities from our membership. In the coming months, we will be conducting a follow-up, courtesy of the AFT PSRP Division, to see how we are doing and give us focus for the future.

As I look back over the past seven years as your president, I can’t help but look at where we were then compared to where we are now. Every year has its successes and setbacks. And we’ve weathered it all together. I believe our hard work has made us stronger. I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity and privilege to be a part of it. And now it is time for me to move on and make room for a new leader of this stellar organization.

Master Sergeant Donovan Nelson Butler once said “Our journeys are different, but we can share the same well-traveled path during parts of our excursion. Small victories win wars, not single battles.”

Let’s go out there together and continue to win the war!!