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Union Education Trust Trustee Michelle Smith not only serves on the education program’s board, but she’s also an avid user of the benefit. “I appreciate the UET. I use it every year for different trainings,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity to improve. The trainings have helped me a lot in my personal and professional life, as well as in my work at the state agency and the union.”
Smith, an Ohio Department of Job and Family Services customer service representative, began working at the state agency 19 years ago. Prior to that, she worked for the public library system for five years in a role she found very fulfilling.
“I loved interacting with the patrons,” Smith said. “We opened the first computer lab/resource center, and I was able to shape it. I taught basic computer and Internet classes to adults. It was fulfilling to see people come in for various reasons.”
“I got to see the digital divide up close,” Smith added, explaining that she was able to help close the knowledge gap for people without access to technology.
She made the switch to ODJFS because of the benefits that OCSEA negotiates for its members. It was a transition from one type of customer service to another, Smith said.
“What I enjoy about the job is, having been unemployed myself, I understand what people are experiencing when they make the phone call. I understand their apprehension and fear,” Smith said. “I use my personal experience to try to encourage people.”
“I understand that me doing my best job can be the difference between someone getting to pay the rent or not, to eat or not,” she added.
In addition to being a UET Trustee, Smith is an OCSEA state board member and the ODJFS Assembly President. She chairs the OCSEA Women’s Action Committee and serves on JIAC. Previously chapter president, she now serves as secretary. Smith mentors other OCSEA members to train them as leaders.
“We leaders are all going to leave here in a few years,” she said. “We need someone to which to pass on the baton.”
Smith herself got involved in OCSEA when she was asked by the chapter president to be a contact person for her one-stop shop location. “I was handling all the materials and seeing the benefits of the union,” Smith said.
Encouraged by a mentor, OCSEA member Shirley Jackson, Smith took steward training and then ran for and was elected president. A bit later, Smith was asked to fill a state board vacancy.
“I enjoy meeting members at union meetings and teaching them about the OCSEA constitution and the history of the union,” she added.
Her role as a trustee is similar, Smith says. She encourages eligible state bargaining unit employees to explore how they can use the UET to meet their needs and pursue lifelong learning. “Many of my members don’t realize that they can use UET for many opportunities,” Smith said. “I’m trying to teach them how to use it.”
The value of UET is in its flexibility as a union-negotiated and union-administered benefit. “UET is for whatever a person needs to advance their careers and continue their lifelong learning journey! It depends on where a person is in their life,” Smith said. “Just knowing that it’s there, really shows OCSEA’s bargaining abilities.”
Smith says lifelong learning is important in all the roles she serves. “It’s shaped me and changed the way I view learning,” she said. “There’s always opportunities to learn. I’m always going to learn something: Go to a seminar, read something. I’m always learning.”