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OCSEA President and Union Education Trust Board Chair, Christopher Mabe, praises the union-negotiated UET for its availability and variety as well as its ease of use. As the Chair of the UET Board of Trustees, Mabe knows the board’s role is integral to the success of the program.
“We make sure that we provide top-level educational programs to our members no matter what field they’re in or where they want to take their next career move,” he said. “We’re about giving our members the opportunities to make progress. Education is the key to any career advancement.”
Mabe added that education is one of the most valuable assets in this nation. “In today’s world, the work is constantly changing, and we need to be ready to move with the change,” he said.
After serving six years active duty in the U.S. Army, Mabe transitioned to civilian life by becoming a Corrections Officer at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1990. Today he is a Correctional Counselor at Lorain Correctional Institution. “I was used to structure and a regimented lifestyle. I’ve always worn a uniform, and it seemed to be a good fit,” he said. “It’s been a good career.”
The transition from CO to OCSEA union activist, and OCSEA President, however, has not exactly mirrored the regimented philosophies he became accustomed to with military and state service.
“In the military, you do what you’re told, when you’re told,” Mabe said. “Being in union is about standing up for what’s right, even when people are telling you to stand down. But it was important to me that people have the rights of a voice in their workplace. It’s worth fighting for a member-driven union contract with rules that management follows.”
“We need strong leaders in OCSEA to make sure that our contract will be around for a long time, that the contract is adhered to and that workers and their families get what they need, what they’ve bargained for,” he said. “We don’t seek to run things. We’re just here to make certain that the contract is followed.”
It is the union’s strength in numbers which has enabled OCSEA to negotiate UET. “The program is strong and responsive to members’ needs, because it’s union-negotiated and union-administered, plain and simple,” he said.
“This is what gives UET the flexibility to listen directly to members’ needs to get ahead in their careers,” Mabe said. “It cuts out bureaucracy. Education is time sensitive: People need vouchers processed on time and need to sign up for classes with ease. They can work one-on-one with the UET staff.”
Mabe encourages eligible state bargaining unit employees to take advantage of UET as well as being active in the union. “This is exactly how members protect UET and preserve this important benefit for the future,” he adds. Mabe has seen, firsthand, the dangers and weaknesses of privatization having worked as a state employee—one of four—at a private prison, North Coast Treatment Facility, for a year while that prison was operated by a private company.
“My concern is maintaining public sector work,” he said. “Without public sector employees, chaos ensues. We provide the framework for a civilized society: We keep the air clean, criminals in prison, and roads cleared and repaired; we help citizens find jobs, get workers back on their feet and keep families strong,” he said.
Mabe credits his mentor, CO Roger Ingram, for encouraging him to get involved with OCSEA. “Roger brought me on board. He told me this is what you should do, and he taught me a lot about the prison and the union,” Mabe said, adding that in 1995 his mentor correctly forecast that someday Mabe would be president of the union.
Mabe points out that there is a difference between leaders and managers, something he learned in the military. “In combat, you train the people around you, so that’s what I try to do with this organization,” he said. “You give them the tools and the knowledge. The real power and capacity are in ‘people,’ not in one ‘person,’” he added.