November 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 21

Steward won’t seek re-election as AFSCME 88 president

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 88 President Becky Steward will step down when her term ends Nov. 18. Steward, 59, plans to retire in the next year from her job as senior business analyst at Multnomah County’s Department of County Management.

Local 88 vice president Michael Hanna is running unopposed to succeed her.

Steward has been Local 88 president since 2005, when she was elected to serve the remainder of her predecessor Marla Rosenberger’s term. She was twice re-elected to two-year terms.

Local 88 represents about 2,700 employees of Multnomah County, 84 percent of whom are full union members. Also in Local 88 are employees of three non-profit organizations: American Friends Service Committee, Central City Concern, and Transition Projects.

Looking back, Steward said union president was hardest but also the best work of her career; hardest, Steward said, because there’s always more you can do. Members have high expectations for the position, which carries a $300 a month stipend but is not a paid staff position.

The job was also a healthy stretch for the self-described introvert.

The successes she has seen she attributes to group efforts. Those she is proudest of include bargaining a wage freeze with the county that prevented layoffs; making the local more aware of the issues of the non-profit sub-locals; and changes in how meetings are conducted.

“We instituted democratic principles in our meetings. Everybody gets a chance to speak. Even if people disagree, we work to give everybody an opportunity to express their voice. And then we vote.”

That included candidate endorsements, which are now made by members, after a forum in which they hear from candidates for County office. The political committee makes a recommendation, but it’s the members at the meeting who decide, directly.

Steward said she’s always been a union supporter, owing to her upbringing as the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who taught about social justice. While earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Portland State University, she worked at Pacific Northwest Bell as an operator, clerk, and dispatcher, and was a member of Communications Workers of America until she was promoted into management, then downsized.

She went to work for the county in 1987, and later got involved in AFSCME, first as a steward, then chief steward, then secretary.

She said she will remain active as a steward and member until she retires. Once she retires, she plans to buy a trailer and travel around the United States for 12 to 18 months, and then return to enroll in a service program like Americorp.

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