Office and Professional Employees Local 11 enters new chapter

Nearly 170 members turned out for the swearing in of Debbie Sluyter as chief executive officer of Office and Professional Employees Local 11.

Sluyter defeated Gary Kirkland in an election held in April. She officially took office May 14.

Kirkland is a senior vice president of the international union and had led the local since 1978.

Sluyter (pronounced Slyter), 49, is the grandmother of three and a former office secretary and office manager of the Northwest Labor Press and Northwest Oregon Labor Council. She joined the staff of the Labor Press in 1987 and became its office manager and bookkeeper two years later. All Labor Press employees are members of Local 11. She was a shop steward for the 82-member Trade Union Sector of Local 11 for 10 years and helped negotiate its last three contracts.

Sluyter left the newspaper in September 1998 to open her own bakery business in Hillsboro, where she lives with her husband of 30 years, Jeff. She has two adult daughters.

In 1999 she returned to the labor movement - as office manager of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council (NOLC). She held that post until her election as chief executive officer. During that time with NOLC she was appointed to the Local 11 Executive Board representing the Trade Union Sector.

Local 11 represents about 3,000 employees under 106 contracts in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Montana. Its largest units are at Northwest Natural, Consolidated Freightways and CFN, all of Portland.

Sluyter is a graduate of Sunset High School. She was a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 328 for a couple of years while working as a receptionist at Oregon Health and Science University in Southwest Portland.

Sluyter said she decided to run for the union's top post in part because of the damage to the union's 401(k) retirement fund at the hands of Capital Consultants Inc. The members' retirement accounts have been frozen since September 2000 and face the loss of millions of dollars. The CEO of Local 11 is the appointed co-chair of the 401(k) fund, in addition to the Western States Pension and Health and Welfare funds.

At her first union meeting as CEO in Local 11's Portland office, Sluyter said she wants to open the doors of communication with members via the World Wide Web and through the Labor Press, and hold more frequent union meetings - at various locations within the union's jurisdiction.

"There are lots of challenges ahead, but I am confident we can meet them," she said.

She now is busy familiarizing herself with contracts and grievances. One of her first challenges was to stop a decertification that had been filed at the offices of the Portland Catholic Archdiocese, which she was successful in doing (on a vote of 21-8). She also is in the process of hiring several new business representatives and office staff.

June 7, 2002 issue

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