In Focus – Dorothy Attneave

Dorothy Attneave inspired workers to sing at the UO since 1984. She is a strike harship fund committee member and a CAT.

Dorothy Attneave inspired workers to sing at the UO since 1984. She is a strike harship fund committee member and a CAT.

[My name is] Dorothy Attneave. If you meet any more of them, they are related to me. I only know of two other ones on the planet at the moment. There used to be some old ladies in England and Australia, but they were 80 years old, like 25 years ago.

Oh, that’s fascinating! So, you’re only one of a few Attneaves in the world; that’s cool.

It’s alright, I guess when we die off, that’ll be that.

You’ll have to name some things.

Yeah, yeah.

Please tell me where you work and how else you’re involved with the university.

I work in the capital construction office in Campus Planning, Design and Construction. We’re across the millrace over in what used to be called the Physical Plant— Campus Operations—and we’re under the same associate VP as the rest of Campus Operations. We’re responsible for building projects, large and small, everything from giant cranes, to small office remodel. I pay bills over there. I even pay bills for you know, broken windows in the dorms and fixing the sprinklers and stuff like that. The bills vary from multi-millions to under a hundred [dollars].

Wow. So, what’s your title?

I’m one of the many Office Specialist 2s. I’ve been various other things on campus. I started out in the library, actually, in 1984, back when you took the civil service test to get a job here.

Oh, really?

Yeah, yeah, there was a clerical state civil service test, and kinda if you knew which end of the pencil, you were gonna score up in the 90s, but anyway, they used that as the first cut, you know. Everybody at that time was a clerical- something, just like we’re an office specialist-something now.

How long [did you work] at the U of O overall?

Well, I’ll have my 30 years of service credits this December. Some of it was part time, and I took two years off to look after my uncle in San Francisco, and so, you know, it took from 1984 ’til now. (laughs)

Are you from San Francisco, originally?

No, I’m from Texas and Oklahoma and moved to Oregon at the age of 15. I lived in other places since then, but always come back. This is home.

What does the union mean to you?

One on one in the system we’ve got, we can be ganged up on, but a whole lot of us together are strong. We need each other, and the union is the way we can locate each other, the way that we can take action in concert, all of us together, when we need to, and that’s really important. Sometimes it just takes one person to mention something obvious, and that’s good, but sometimes you need a steward, sometimes you need a crowd (laughs), you know, so unions are important.

Please tell me about your history with [the union]

I joined within the first five minutes after I started working in the library. I joined the old union, and I joined the new one, in ’84. I was brought up, not in a family that had union members in it, but a family that supported unions and thought highly of unions. I was brought up to know the history whereby people spilled blood in order to make working conditions better in this country, make it so people could get a fair wage.

You joined in ’84—how were you involved between then and now?

Well, let’s see, in, I think it was ’85, we had a strike, so I was involved on the picket lines at that time. I think we’re at our best, when we’re singing or laughing. Those things put more blood to the brain and make people smarter and tend to work against mob psychology. So, I made it my business to write funny song lyrics and just make copies of the words and run around to picket sites with these word sheets and get people to sing. [It was] very informal and under the radar and outside the system, really, and did that with the idea that maybe we would get a sound bite. It’s really easy to get the word out that there’s people marching around the block, but hard to get the word out about why they’re marching. At some point around then or a couple years after that, one of our organizers convinced me to ask if other people wanted to make it a labor choir and actually get together, instead of me tryin’ to just button-hole people before each rally. We did that, and here we have the labor choir, and we’ve had fun ever since.

[Also,] I’ll go around at 7 o’clock in the morning and try to hit the doors of all the, believe me, many, many different shops within campus ops, with the memo of the day, or the notice of whatever’s going on with bargaining, or the meeting flier, or whatever it may be just to try and keep a work unit that’s dispersed all over campus informed of what’s going on. A lot of ’em don’t spend a lot of time staring at a computer like I do, so I try to take that stuff and get copies of it, and spread it around the unit, and talk to people, generally, keep us in the loop over there.

Anything not UO or union related?

I sing with a bunch of other women in Scots Gaelic. We have a good time. It’s the Gaelic language, spoken in the Hebrides islands off of Scotland off the west coast, and in parts of Canada and in parts of the northwest, from here on up into [British Columbia]. I can sing in it. Some of the people I sing with can actually carry on a respectable conversation, which is more than I can do, but we were having language lessons and using singing as part of that and we found that we were mostly singing and sittin’ in the back of the kitchen, drinking tea or sometimes a little something else and singing songs, so we eventually just decided that’s what we were gonna do, and we call ourselves Kitchen Ceilidh (pronounced kay–lee), because we’re a ceilidh in the kitchen. (laughs) A ceilidh just means a gathering of friends. It can be anything from a great big dance to a public concert to people sitting in the kitchen and gossiping and singing. It’s an Irish word as well as a Scottish word.

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SEIU Local 503 Sublocal 085: University of Oregon