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OCSEA’s Union Education Trust is a comprehensive program of training initiatives that has been a hard-fought win at the bargaining table. What began as a continuing education initiative more than 30 years ago has evolved to become the member-focused benefit that UET is today.
“UET has been thoughtfully crafted by OCSEA through negotiations with management and in response to members’ needs,” said UET Chair and OCSEA President Christopher A. Mabe. “It is a phenomenal benefit that encourages members to continually develop their knowledge and skills, gaining employment security and improving state services.”
It’s important to know where UET has come from as OCSEA prepares to negotiate a new contract so that this benefit remains strong and vital. As its many participants can attest to, UET is an essential key to lifelong learning and employment security. It enables the eligible state bargaining unit employees to be the best civil service employees they can be for the state of Ohio.
“It is critical that we continue to develop our skill sets,” said Kathy Stewart, UET Trustee and OCSEA Secretary/Treasurer. “Today’s labor market is as diverse as government jobs. Quite frankly, for every job we perform as state or local government employees, there is someone in the private sector who performs the same duties. Look at the state’s history – they have privatized correctional facilities, delivery positions, food service positions, amusement ride inspectors, and—need I say—IT positions, just to mention a few.”
“We also need to continue to educate ourselves not only for promotional opportunities, but to also instill pride in ourselves and to show our children that to get ahead in life, we need to secure a quality education,” Stewart said. “UET provides all of us this opportunity. This is a negotiated benefit and we absolutely do NOT want to lose it!”
Article 37 and its focus on continuing education was negotiated in the first OCSEA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 1986. In 1994, major language changes were negotiated that set the stage for the enhancement of the employee training and development programs. This new language was the forerunner to the development of the Workforce Development (WD) program and later to the establishment of the Union Education Trust (UET).
When WD was introduced in 1997, it was groundbreaking. There were few programs like it in the United States. Something completely new and different, the program was a huge win for the union and its members: It established support and encouragement for lifelong learning and with the result of employment security. Although it was overseen by a joint labor-management steering committee, it was the OCSEA members who were volunteering their time as education representatives hosting education fairs around the state and spreading the word about how to participate in the program.
Those members knew how important the access to education is. As UET Trustee Jerry Brown said, “Education is the most empowering force in the world. It creates knowledge, builds confidence, and breaks down barriers to opportunity.”
Brown added “We have the power of education available because of the power we have shown during collective bargaining. Once again it is time for everyone to support our bargaining team and show our power at the bargaining table.”
Nine years and several negotiations later, OCSEA fought to improve Article 37 by dissolving the joint labor-management WD and establishing the union-administered UET. The UET’s programs help bargaining unit employees engage in lifelong learning activities to gain knowledge and skills and to acquire credentials to improve their job performance, advance their careers, enhance the quality of work life, and work toward achieving employment security.
“UET has several programs that allow you the chance to maintain your credentials and acquire the education to secure your employment today and in the future,” said UET Trustee Tim McAllister. “This popular benefit was won through collective bargaining. We must stand together to protect UET and all our benefits during the upcoming negotiations. Let your leaders know you will fight to keep your benefits.”
Because that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot, UET has evolved from 2006 to today as features have been added and improved based on members’ needs and suggestions. Applications have been streamlined, new programs have been developed, and additional costs and fees have been covered by UET to ensure that all eligible state bargaining unit employees have access to lifelong learning.
“I have witnessed first-hand members using their UET benefits to achieve their career goals and enhance their quality of life,” said UET Trustee Gerard (Rocky) Jolly. “UET provides members the opportunity to acquire the skills, knowledge and credentials for a promotion or changing their career path. UET allows members to be in charge of their careers. Because this benefit was won through collective bargaining, I encourage you to step up and show your support for your bargaining team and to continue using your UET benefits.”
The many eligible state bargaining unit employees who have participated in UET — whether it was attending a one-day seminar, earning continuing education units (CEUs), or completing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree — understand the value of this program. Just as UET has evolved in response to members’ needs and aspirations, it will strengthen as members support it. This is particularly important in the upcoming season of negotiations.
“Work is constantly changing at a rapid pace,” said UET Trustee Michelle Smith. “We must take control of our own careers and ensure we have the knowledge and skills to perform the new work. UET gives us the tools to achieve employment security. We must show our strength during the upcoming negotiations and protect our benefits.”
UET Trustee Carrie Johnson agreed: “UET meets our member’s education needs for all careers. If you want to pursue a college education, attend a conference or workshop, or develop your technical skills, then UET is there for you,” she said. “Now we are asking you to stand up for UET, stand up for your bargaining team, and stand up for your union.”
Just as UET is a benefit that has continually improved in response to members’ needs, it is further strengthened by members showing their support of it.
“UET exists solely because of OCSEA members, both the rank-and-file in addition to the leadership on the negotiating team,” Mabe said. “We created it, we negotiated it, we use it, we support it and we will secure it.”