Mike Chapman, engineering technician and shop steward, in his Teamsters Local 223 T-shirt.
By Jessica Bucciarelli
In the minds of many, Labor Day has come to signify the “last hurrah” of the summer season, the benchmark that heralds the beginning of the next school year and the encroachment of fall. But, as with most of our extended weekend holidays, it’s easy to lose sight of the meaning behind the holiday.
As Jeff Keikkala, an electrical and instrumentation technician and CWS shop steward, notes, “Many of the rights, freedom and benefits we take for granted today — including 40-hour weeks, paid vacation and sick time, health benefits, the list goes on — were won through the trials and tribulations of our early labor unions.”
About half of the 400 people who work at Clean Water Services staff are represented by Teamsters Local 223, from accounting clerks and maintenance personnel to lab techs and treatment plant operators. You’ll find both represented and nonrepresented employees at all CWS facilities — in Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Tigard/Durham and Beaverton. A network of shop stewards system provides represented employees a Teamsters resource relatively near their work site.
“My role is to be there for the members as a resource to answer questions,” says engineering technician Mike Chapman, a shop steward since 2001, “If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find it. I accompany members of my work group when they need to talk with their supervisor or HR. I carry what is important to them to negotiations to negotiate on their behalf and the behalf of all employees.”
Both Mike and Jeff report that they became shop stewards because there was a vacancy and their colleagues asked them to consider serving.
“Before I became a shop steward, I was like most employees,” says Mike, who started as a treatment plant operator in 1993 and now works in the natural systems group. “I knew the union was there, and I had to use it a couple of times, but mostly I just did my job.”
Jeff adds, “Coming from a pulp and paper mill, being in a union environment was nothing new for me. In fact, I have fond memories of my dad taking me to his carpenters’ union meetings when I was about 5. But I had always steered clear of shop steward, because I’m generally content to stay in my little corner of the world. But the steward at our Durham Water Resource Recovery Facility, where I worked at the time, was stepping down and some people approached me and asked if I’d be interested.”
Recently, Jeff, who’s now part of the pump station crew, has taken his involvement a step further, joining the executive board of the Local. He says, “It’s a chance to see behind the curtain and realize that Local 223 represents more than 2,300 bargaining unit members in fields ranging from law enforcement to public utilities and health care to food services.”
In its Labor Day 2021 proclamation, the Washington County Board of Commissioners noted that Oregon was, in 1887, the first state to declare Labor Day a state holiday, and that “the strength and esprit de corps of trade workers, farm workers and labor organizations in Washington County have helped secure the collective bargaining rights that have empowered so many.”
“Represented or nonrepresented, bargaining unit or management, we’re all ultimately on the same page,” says Jeff. “The people who make up CWS are among the best I have ever had the privilege of working with and it is the people who make Clean Water Services what it is.”
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