We recently asked a few SEIU Local 503 member-leaders to write for our blog without strings attached and without political agreement with our line being taken for granted. We have done some recent coverage of SEIU Local 503 and the recently-held SEIU convention and these statements or essays may be understood to be in response to those posts.
First to respond was Greg Ledbetter, now president of the SEIU Local 503 retired members sub-local. We posed some basic questions to him: How did you get involved in Local 503? What has kept you involved over the years? What is it about 503's program and SEIU's program which interests you most? How do these programs come into being? Is there something missing from the programs which belongs there? Do you think that the goals of the program are achievable? What would the union look like and society look like if the goals were won?
After a 10 year stint in the property and casualty industry as an insurance adjuster I went to work for the Oregon State Insurance Commissioner in 1991 as an insurance investigator. The position was represented by SEIU 503 although we called ourselves OPEU (Oregon Public Employees Union) and represented only state workers then. I joined the union upon completion of trial service, became a shop steward a few years later. At about the same time my position with the state changed when I took a transfer to being an insurance consumer advocate, a position much more in line with my talents and outlook.
In 1995 two things happened to me, we (SEIU 503) went on a week long strike and I met my future and current wife on the picket line of that strike. I became more deeply involved with the union and no longer think of it as the union but as my union, us and we rather than them. I served as the president of the sub-local at the Department of Consumer and Business Services for four or five terms. I also was elected to the bargaining committee three times and chair of it twice.
I also worked several times for a total six months or so on staff in a couple of different capacities.
I retired, along with my wonderful wife, in 2007 on a wonderful PERS pension that I wish everyone could have.
However, thanks to a bylaws change passed 15 years ago by 503 I have been able to maintain an active role even though I am no longer working in a represented position. We created a sub local consisting entirely of retirees . I currently am serving as president of the local (known as 001) and as such also have a position on the Board of Directors of SEIU 503. I was elected to the Executive Committee of the Board this past year and have worked closely with the past three executive directors and SEIU 503 statewide presidents.
What kept me involved for what is now 25 years?
Being involved with an organization that espouses the same values I have.
It began with the exhilaration of the 1995 strike, continued with being able to help co-workers deal with the bosses who would treat them unfairly, and was strengthened by seeing what I saw as a democratically run organization choose to transform itself once again into something different. We recognized as early as 1995 that Grover Norquist was a threat to Oregonians and that if we lost on the political front it did not matter much how great a bargaining agreement we had we public employees were still screwed. This was actually the reason for the 1995 strike. I think it enabled leadership to move many things forward in the next several years that might otherwise have not been possible such as dues increases and the inclusion of private sector homecare workers in the union.