The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association was formed on April 15, 1938, by James Bowman, a Department of Liquor Control employee from Cleveland, who lost his job for political reasons.
Although founder James Bowman tragically died shortly after establishing OCSEA in 1938, others quickly filled his shoes and turned OCSEA into an effective organization that has been behind nearly every pay raise, benefit improvement and retirement increase in the last five decades.
Records show that a few months after OCSEA's start, 150 members were paying $1.00 annual dues. In 1944, OCSEA crossed the threshold of having more than 5,000 members for the first time. In 1947, OCSEA's 10,000 members made it the second largest public employees union in the United States.
By 1975, OCSEA had 26,000 members, but membership leveled off as OCSEA faced increased competition from rival unions and employee organizations.
After affiliation with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and subsequent victories in state bargaining unit elections, OCSEA membership grew to its present level of 36,000.
Mission and Goals
OCSEA's mission statement:
OCSEA fights for the social and economic well-being, employment security and the rights of our members and families. We collectively organize within the community and mobilize politically to ensure quality public services.
The primary goal at OCSEA is to ensure that our members are successful in their jobs, compensated fairly, treated with dignity and provided safe and healthy working environments. In fact, we have an excellent track record when it comes to job security, fairness, dignity and safety.
In the mid-1990s, OCSEA leaders committed this labor organization to the strategic planning process to set clear goals and achieve measurable results for union members and their families.
Union leaders understood then—and still do—the need to be forward planning and always ready to adjust its sails and change course to keep moving toward our destination of becoming a world-class labor organization.
The four goals that support OCSEA's mission statement include:
- Membership Satisfaction
- Employment Security
- Grow the Organization
- Increase Public Support
In the early years, OCSEA leaders became frustrated by the legal battles needed in the civil service fight.
Legislative changes were just as frustrating because pay raises and employee policies could be reversed by a simple re-vote or change in administration.
In the 1960's, OCSEA began looking seriously at collective bargaining as a solution. Slowly, OCSEA gained members-only contracts for employees in a number of departments such as ODOT, MH and MR. But even these contracts were of limited scope. The demand for full-scale public employee collective bargaining grew.
In the 1970's OCSEA introduced its first collective bargaining legislative proposal. Several such bills were passed by the General Assembly only to be vetoed by Gov. James Rhodes. Not to be defeated, OCSEA kept up the pressure. A new bill was successfully introduced in 1982 and signed into law by Gov. Celeste, July 6, 1983.
Nineteen eighty-six marked the first time that state employees had a comprehensive contract that would govern every aspect of their working lives, an accomplishment that was only possible due to the immense effort that stretched back nearly five decades to James Bowman and his original dream of an organization that would fight for public workers.
The union has fought back a few attacks on the collective bargaining law during the last decade. The latest attack comes from Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Cinci), who introduced HB 314 this summer. The proposed legislation is essentially a right to work bill.
Even before 1983, OCSEA leaders had the foresight to see that collective bargaining was coming and that the association would need additional support to make the transition to a new era.
In 1982, OCSEA investigated several of the United States' leading unions including the Teamsters, SEIU, AFGE and CWA. Eventually, OCSEA decided on AFSCME, which had superior public employee experience and the ability to permit a large degree of autonomy for its affiliates. OCSEA formally affiliated with AFSCME on May 14, 1983.
After OCSEA members won the right to collective bargaining, they embarked on one of the largest organizing drives in union history. In April, 1984, OCSEA was the first union that formally filed to represent state employees, submitting petitions to represent over 40,000 workers.
OCSEA/AFSCME led the first large-scale organizing campaign in the nation to use TV and radio advertising, opinion surveys, "focus groups" and direct mail to convey that OCSEA was "The Strongest Voice for State Employees Rights."
Although other unions also sought to represent state workers, OCSEA/AFSCME emerged as the clear winner. In 1986, OCSEA entered the first state-wide contract negotiations affecting over 32,000 employees. The first contract went into effect that year.