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OCSEA Secretary-Treasurer and Union Education Trust Trustee Kathy (Stewart) Gersper hears tales all the time from retired State employees about what it was like working for the State of Ohio before the union, OCSEA, protected workers. For many members, she’s realizing, it probably seems like the union has always been there, protecting their rights, fighting for good wages, and negotiating for fair benefits. But this hasn’t always been the case.
“It’s frightening because many members might be under the impression that the State just gives us these benefits. But it doesn’t! It’s your union that fights that fight for state workers!” she said. For example, before collective bargaining, there was no benefit like the UET, at all, she reiterates
“I’ve heard so many horror stories: No appeal rights for discipline unless it was a five-day suspension or more; promotions went to who you knew and not because of what you knew. OCSEA has made a difference not only in our job environment, but in our lives,” she said.
“And where else can you go and get a free education?” she asked, referring to OCSEA’s union-negotiated UET as well as the free college associate degree program. She finds her role guiding the UET to be both enjoyable and important, especially working with the UET staff and assisting eligible state bargaining unit members.
“It comes down to helping other people––whether it’s a grievance or encouraging them to get their education,” Gersper said, explaining that she does everything in her power to make sure people know how to further their education through the union benefits. When the state was eliminating word processing specialists in her office, Gersper went to each specialist and explained how it was essential to go to school and take additional classes to upgrade their skills. Nearly all of them used their UET benefits and were reassigned to new classifications.
“UET is here for everyone. The UET staff will walk you through everything while explaining the opportunities,” she said. Her role as a UET Trustee means “making sure we provide the best opportunity for our members while staying in budget,” Gersper said.
Taking advantage of UET is essential to ensure employment security, she reiterates. “Sure, everything we do as state workers can be done in the private sector,” Gersper said. “But there’s just something about being a public servant and the benefits and security that comes with the job. That’s why we must keep ourselves educated. If we don’t continue to enhance our skills, the state is going to contract out our jobs. We have to prove that we do it better!”
She pointed out that many services have been contracted out to private companies, to the detriment of the public receiving those services. “Contracting out means the caring factor is missing,” Gersper said. “It can’t only be about the all-mighty dollar,” she said.
Having strong leaders in OCSEA is important to fighting privatization and other challenges to the union representing its members. As a leader, Gersper says her favorite part is interacting with fellow members, whether training or supporting them.
In addition to promoting UET, Gersper has, herself, taken several classes thanks to the benefit. She studied business accounting and labor relations and wants other OCSEA members to know: “If I can go back to school after 30 years, so can you!”
Currently employed as an Accountant/Examiner 3 with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, she has also worked in the Ohio Racing Commission, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and the Ohio Dept. of Administrative Services.
Serving as OCSEA Secretary-Treasurer since 2003, Gersper has sat on past OCSEA bargaining teams, the Ohio AFL-CIO Executive Board, the Central Ohio Union Label as Vice President (and former Secretary-Treasurer) and the AFSCME National Women’s Committee.