OSEA 101

As a member-run union, OSEA knows it’s important for every worker we represent to understand who we are, what we do and why it matters. Have a question about your union? Email us and we will answer it here!

What is a Union?

A union is a group of workers who have banded together to support one another and advocate for their rights in the workplace. With strength in numbers, workers can negotiate with their employers over wages, benefits, workplace safety, and more through collective bargaining. That’s why 71% of American workers believe unions are a force for good.

Who are the Members of OSEA?

OSEA is made up of workers in public schools, community colleges, parks, libraries, Head Starts, education service districts (ESDs), charter schools, and private education contractors. Across Oregon, these education employees have organized in our union to fight for fair wages, good benefits, safe working conditions, and excellent schools. We come from many walks of life and every corner of the state. We do many types of work – supporting students in the classroom and one-on-one, cleaning and maintaining facilities, running offices, preparing and serving meals, transporting students, and so much more. Any worker represented by one of OSEA’s chapters can become a card-carrying member to have a voice in our union. OSEA members are united because we know we are stronger together!

What is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the fundamental way unions empower workers. Bargaining is the process of negotiating wages, working conditions, benefits, workplace policies and more into a written contract between the union and the employer, called a “collective bargaining agreement” (CBA). It also creates a legal process to resolve any potential conflicts or disagreements between the employer and the union or an individual worker.

During the collective bargaining process, a group of union members known as the bargaining team meet with managers as equal partners to discuss issues in the workplace. Once an agreement is reached, it is referred to as a tentative agreement (TA). The agreement must be ratified by all union members through a vote before it can be implemented. In the case of a school district or other public employer, the governing body must also approve the TA.

What is in My Contract?

Your collective bargaining agreement (CBA), also called a contract, covers nearly everything related to working for your employer. While every chapter’s contract is different, they typically cover wages, benefits, working hours, leave policies, discipline, and workplace safety. They also cover the rights and responsibilities of both the union and the employer, and set a process for resolving any disputes over interpretation and implementation of the contract through grievance and arbitration.

It is important to understand your contract – if you don’t have a copy, ask your chapter president or field representative!

How are Conflicts with my Employer Addressed?

You may have heard of strikes, when workers walk off the job in solidarity with one another after bargaining with the employer breaks down. But the truth is, strikes are only one tactic available to us, and it is always our last resort. In fact, there has only been one strike in all of OSEA’s history!

OSEA members have several options to resolve a disagreement with management. Our first layer of protection is collective bargaining. We prevent problems by negotiating workplace policies with the employer and updating them together every few years. We also agree on a process for resolving any disagreement over how the collective bargaining agreement is implemented.

If your employer breaks the contract, OSEA will file a formal complaint called a grievance. Grievances can be handled at the supervisor level or escalated to arbitration, when an impartial third party will determine a fair solution. In the event of discipline or termination, you will have a union representative at your side every step of the way to make sure your rights are not violated. OSEA’s representatives are experts on your contract and all applicable employment laws.

Who are Your Union Representatives?

OSEA has your back, from negotiating with your employer on workplace policies to protecting you from unfair discipline or termination. You have representatives at the local and state level who are here to support you, listen to you, and protect your rights.

In the chapter, you are represented by the democratically elected executive board. During bargaining, you are represented by your chapter’s bargaining team, who negotiate with the district. If you ever face unfair treatment or discipline, OSEA has your back: your chapter officers, union steward and/or professional field representative will represent you and help protect your rights.

What Rights Do Union Members Have?

Your union contract provides many rights and protections, often more protections than those guaranteed by law. But union members and public employees have additional protections enshrined in state and federal law, which have been protected by the Supreme Court. It is important to understand your rights and how to assert them if you ever need to.

  • Legal Services: OSEA provides legal services on employment-related matters to all represented workers. In the event your field representative is unable to resolve a problem, the matter will be litigated by OSEA’s general counsel.
  • Weingarten Rights: You have the right to union representation during any disciplinary hearing.
  • Garrity Rights: Statements about a criminal matter made by a public employee under threat of discipline cannot be used against them during a police investigation. Garrity rights apply only to those employed by the government, i.e., public employees.

Who Leads OSEA and How are Decisions Made?

As a member’s union, OSEA is run democratically. Members vote on policies and elect leaders and representatives. Delegates at the annual Conference are the highest governing body of OSEA. In between Conferences, OSEA is led by the Board of Directors, a group of members elected by Conference delegates to govern the union. Members can volunteer to serve on state committees, who do important work to run the union and make recommendations to the Board of Directors. You can also shape union policies and actions through resolutions.

What is Organizing, and Why Does it Matter?

Organizing is the process through which we reach out to workers in our bargaining unit to inform, educate and empower them to join the union. Our strength is in numbers. Having strong membership rates – when the majority of workers in the bargaining unit are active OSEA members – gives us a stronger negotiating position at the bargaining table. Membership helps us win better contracts, improve working conditions and protect our rights.

Why Do Union Members Pay Dues?

All OSEA members pay the same dues: 1.8 percent of our salary. (In some chapters, members pay a small additional amount for local activities.) It’s a small investment in a bigger cause: dues support a variety of resources that help us represent, protect and empower education employees. Dues allow us to hire professional representatives and legal counsel to level the playing field with our employers. Membership is worth it: union-represented workers make 11% more, on average, than nonunion workers in similar jobs.

How Can I Get Involved in OSEA?

The first step to getting involved is becoming an OSEA member! It is the best way to stand with your coworkers and improve your workplace. Once you are a member, there are lots of ways you can support the union. In your chapter, show up to meetings to learn what’s going on. You can also consider becoming a worksite organizer (WSO), steward, or chapter officer. At the state level, you can volunteer on a committee, submit resolutions to shape our union, or run for an elected position on the Board of Directors. Every time a member steps up and gets involved, it makes our union stronger!

Is OSEA Political?

OSEA is a nonpartisan organization. We raise our collective voice for the education and labor issues that impact OSEA members. Our union advocates to fund public schools, protect our pensions, and support labor rights. Our legislative advocacy is driven by OSEA members like you.

Want to get involved? When education employees team up to hold elected officials accountable, we can make lasting change to improve schools, communities, and working people’s lives across the state. Consider becoming a member advocate or participating in OSEA’s Legislative Education Day (LED). You can support our advocacy by making a donation to the Education and Labor Advocacy Fund (ELAF) – ELAF is funded solely by voluntary contributions, not member dues.

Does OSEA Membership Have Special Benefits?

OSEA members get plenty of perks: Solidarity with your coworkers, extra rights in the workplace and the knowledge that you have a seat at the table when it comes to decisions that affect your job. But you also have access to a host of exclusive member benefits that can save you and your family time and money. From insurance to legal services and so much more, union membership pays for itself several times over. More benefits are being added all the time!