In Focus – Chuck Theobald

Chuck Theobald

Chuck Theobald is a union steward, IT consultant and gardener.

Tell me about you—you’re involved with the union at the University of Oregon—so, how did you come to be here?

OK, I was hired on in 1999 as an IT consultant with the department of education and spent a couple of years with them and then eventually ended up at the Lewis Center for Neuroimaging, still as an IT consultant… I still work as an IT consultant, and I support the computers at the Lewis Center. I’ve also got two or three other bosses. I support Animal Care, and they’ve got a web application they use to manage various things that have to do with research protocols that deal with animals.

The union—what does it mean to you?
Unions in general are responsible for so much that we take for granted. The weekend, coffee breaks, eight-hour workdays, 40-hour work weeks, no children working in factories—all that is a result of union action. Businesses aren’t gonna do the right thing on their own. Government isn’t gonna to do the right thing on its own. It’s the collective of people saying the right thing, and taking a stand, in some cases in front of guns pointed at them to make things better—people who are actually doing the work. That’s the over- arching benefit of unions. Here at the university, it’s still applicable—because as a steward, I see a lot of things that if it were a private sector or a non-unionized job, the worker would not have any recourse—things like bully bosses or working out of class—just being asked to do things that they shouldn’t have to be doing…I’ve been involved with the union here almost since the beginning, coming to meetings since I’ve been on campus… As I said, I think that steward work is my most important job with the union, because it’s the front line. It’s helping people who have issues with their management or the university or don’t understand the contract, and they need somebody who is there to help. Our first job as stewards is to uphold the contract. The second job is to be an advocate for workers. Some people can be a great self-advocate. Not many people are like that though. So, that’s where stewards come in. We are essentially the equals of management, so we have the ability to say things that an employee can’t, and bring things up and it’s not insubordination, because we don’t work for them. Whereas if the employee were to try to bring this up, it could be interpreted as insubordination, and that just leads down a road you don’t want to go.

How should I as a member—a classified staff employee on campus that’s part of the union— how should I think of my steward? What is a steward to me? Are you a protector? Are you a lawyer? What’s the relationship?

In a way it is a protector, but it’s certainly not a lawyer. That’s one trap that stewards can fall into, and I feel myself drawn that way sometimes is trying to be a lawyer, and I am in no way qualified to do that, but I can read a contract, and I know what the contract says in plain language. It’s a little bit towards that, but not, you know, it’s definitely not a lawyer position, but it is definitely an advocate position… We work within the contract, and the contract binds all of the university and all of SEIU. Some managers think “Oh it’s the union making us do this”— that’s crap, because the contract is an agreement between the university system and the workers. It’s not something that’s imposed on the university by the union.

Tell us about your life outside the University of Oregon—what keeps you busy?

Oh, homeowner, minor landlord; I have one rental property. I volunteer with the OSU extension service as a compost specialist, and one of my great loves is gardening, and so I’m involved in the Common Ground Garden.

Where is that?

That’s at 21st and VanBuren. We’re always looking for volunteers… First and second Saturdays at 10 o’clock; third and fourth Sundays at 10 o’clock. at’s our work parties.

Anything else?

As far as union work goes, I would suggest that everybody at least peruse the table of contents of the contract, and it’s available on the SEIU 503 website. That’s your rights, that’s what you’ve got to deal with.

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SEIU Local 085