In Focus – Lois Yoshishige

Lois Yoshishige joined our union 31 years ago and is chief contact. She drums with Eugene Taiko.

Lois Yoshishige joined our union 31 years ago and is chief contact. She drums with Eugene Taiko.

Which job do you do?
I do clerical work in the business office in Oregon Hall, specifically in student loan collections. I talk to students and their parents, and yeah, I’m the front counter person for folks wanting to talk about past due collections; I refer them to others who can get in to talk about that with them in more depth.

Tell me about your union involvement.
I’ve been involved as a general council delegate, as a steward, as a local president and chief contact. Yeah.

When did you first get involved?
I signed up as a union member right away when I started working here in 1985. I think I became a steward in 1987 after the strike, because the strike was very exciting. Not, you know, losing pay, but to do something together, collectively, with other workers on campus, to stand up for workers’ rights. I found that really exciting and very empowering, yeah. I was impressed with how much we could do. Yeah, how much we could win, and how joyful it is to do this together.

Did you have any experience with unions or any perception of unions before that time?
My mother was in a union. She was a teacher in Hawaii. at’s why I signed up for union membership right away, because that’s what you do. That’s what I learned from her.

I see, so your Mom encouraged you. Do you think she would have expected you to join the union?
Maybe, but it’s more like she was proud of me. Both my Mom and Dad were proud of all the union work I did.

Great. So your parents were in Hawaii, and that’s where you were born?
Yeah, in Waipahu. I mention that because that used to be a sugar cane plantation town and there was a strike there, also.

Yeah, so, it’s in your cultural DNA to stand up for your rights?
Yes. Yes. Yes.

That’s excellent. What else about the union? What else do you want to talk about with our members? What do you think is important?
I just think it’s important to stick together, on whatever it is. For example, our business office is moving to the Thompson Center sometime in the fall, and I organized the people in my office to take a survey of the classified [employees] in our office and compile data on our concerns. We developed a campus-wide survey, which we’re gonna see if the director approves of, and then we have gotten some changes that we’ve asked for. We’ve gotten their notice that this is something that is of concern to us. Even though a lot of us have mixed feelings and reservations about moving and how that’s gonna affect the service we’re able to provide to our customers, I feel good about having made the e ort, and it was not just me that spoke up to management and got others in our department involved. I think for me that counteracts a feeling of—how should I say— having to be a worker bee that has to obey (laughs)…When we can come together and push back…not only for the good of the worker, but for the good of the university as a whole, then we make a di erence, and I’ve seen that over and over again.

So what I hear is essentially that it’s important to stick together…because it gives us agency, right?
Right, and, how should I say—that our voice and our being in charge of this situation is just critical to the well-functioning of this university. You think management is gonna be able to do what we do, or know what we know? That is not their job, you know, so they’re relying on us. We have what it takes, but we’re so conditioned in our role to think that we’re not as good as we are, not as powerful as we are, you know. We are smart people who run this university, you know.

So, we’ve covered your university life a little bit, we’ve covered your union involvement and why you think that’s important, so what else is there?
I play Japanese taiko drum with Eugene Taiko, local group, more than twenty years, and we just performed the past two days for the library systems… It was fun to bring our Japanese culture to all the young people.

Wow! I don’t know anything about taiko drumming.
Well, these are kind of like barrel-like drums with broom stick handle-like sticks. There’s like choreography and you’re moving and it’s a lot of good exercise. at’s what the theme of the library performances were, was something about health and exercise or something.

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SEIU Local 503 Sublocal 085: University of Oregon
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