Twelve miles west of Marquam Hill, amongst the trees of the Silicon Forest, Haley Wolford goes to work at OHSU’s West Campus. As “part of an amazing team of techs,” she tends the research animals that help save lives. But, as a union steward, Haley is also attentive to the well-being of a very different animal -- the AFSCME Local 328 member.
More than 130 members of Local 328 work at the West Campus. During this summer’s contract bargaining, Haley made sure all those voices were heard twelve miles east. “As a steward,” she says, “I wanted to set an example for others.” She handed out green swag left and right, and rallied West Campus to win the unity-break contest for largest participating group.
Bargaining is over, but Haley is still excited about the union. Insight talked with her about why getting so involved matters on a personal level.
What's the difference between getting active with the union vs. watching from the sidelines?
“Being involved in the union has been an empowering experience for me. From the sidelines, I used to wonder what exactly the union did -- what was it doing for me? The answers to those questions are definitely worth seeking, but that means getting active -- making the effort. Understanding that it takes member involvement for a union to operate the way it is designed helped shift my question from ‘How is AFSCME helping me?’ to ‘How am I helping myself?’. Unions give workers a voice, but we have to keep talking.”
How has getting active has changed your perspective on the union, or on what your own participation means?
“As altruistic as I may have set out to be as a steward, I’ve found that being a resource for others is an incredibly fulfilling position to hold. It has given me the opportunity to interact with members at the West Campus, as well as across all of OHSU. The benefits have been greater than I imagined. At the same time, I have become acutely aware of the endangered status of unions, specifically the collective-bargaining component. I feel strongly that this is worth protecting -- the rights of workers, the community created and the benefits that facilitate future health and financial stability.”
Bargaining was a busy time for you. What kept you motivated?
“The contract is our foundation -- I wanted to be involved, and help involve others, in this essential process. I think it can be difficult for AFSCME members at OHSU’s satellite campuses to feel connected during bargaining, so it was important to me that I help find ways to reach the diverse 130+ members at the West Campus where I work. As a steward, I wanted to set an example for others and serve as a resource while the newest incarnation of the contract was negotiated.”
What did you and your West Campus coworkers do to make sure your voices were heard during bargaining?
“I distributed flyers, stickers, window clings and other AFSCME swag to break rooms and lunch areas around the West Campus. Members wore green and sported AFSCME lanyards throughout bargaining. Our awesome staff rep Val Andreas led a question-and-answer session regarding the bargaining process. We were able to gather a large group to participate in (and win) the unity-break contest -- prizes are always a powerful motivator! I also traveled with a small group to participate in a gathering at the main campus in response to OHSU’s less popular proposals.”
Do you feel like it made a difference?
“Absolutely! The sense of unity and solidarity that I witnessed at the West Campus made me proud to be a part of it. I’m positive that the bargaining team recognized and appreciated the show of support. Every member who wore green, asked questions, took break time to read the updates or stood outside with a giant AFSCME sign made a difference.”
You recently were appointed as a member at large of Local 328's Executive Board. Why did you decide to seek the position, and what will you be doing?
“Bargaining is over, the elections are over -- I needed to find more ways to get involved. The E-board was recommended to me as a good outlet for my energy. A member at large is a voting member of the E-board who has the opportunity to take on various projects. I’m excited to figure out how I can best contribute.”