New CSEA leaders promise an era of activism

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Like 'Peanut Butter and Jelly' - Andre Harris and Silvia Lugo are CSEA's new president and vice president. The veteran classified employees pledge to raise the profile of their bargaining unit.

LIKE ‘PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY’ — Andre Harris and Silvia Lugo are CSEA’s new president and vice president. The veteran classified employees pledge to raise the profile of their bargaining unit. Photo by Jaime Pronoble.

Forrest Gump said he and Jenny went together like peas and carrots.

Andre Harris and Silvia Lugo, the CSEA’s new president and vice president, are also a smooth blend.

“We know each other like peanut butter and jelly,” said Harris. “Her strengths are my weaknesses.”

As the leaders of the college’s about 350 classified employees, Harris and Lugo represent the non-teaching staff on negotiable issues like workplace conditions, disciplinary matters, health and welfare, and compensation.

New to their positions, they hit the ground running. Harris and Lugo were part of the team responsible for the 3.5 percent restoration pay. Classified employees were the first group to negotiate with the district for the refund, they said, which faculty eventually received as well.

“Our unit, CSEA, laid down the groundwork so that the rest of the employees can get that refund,” said Lugo.

Governing Board Member Humberto Peraza said it was thanks to the CSEA and their negotiation team that the refund was possible.

“The fact that the CSEA and the leadership team went out and asked for it in negotiations is really crucial,” he said. “If it weren’t for them, the campus may not have gotten the 3.5 percent back.”

Harris said he and Lugo had been with the district for about 15 years and developed a bond.

CSEA’s dream team echo off each other often, he said, and seem to have a very clear vision of their goals and the future of the union.

“We want to be one of the driving forces and make a difference and not be in the background anymore,” he said.

Lugo agreed.

“The role of classified professionals has always been a quiet voice,” she said. “They don’t want to make any waves and just keep things calm. We believe the same thing, too, but in the leadership role that we’re in now, we want to make sure the district and the other unions recognize us as a viable force on the campus.”

Lugo said the former CSEA President Bruce MacNintch did an excellent job as the head of the union before retiring last summer.

“(MacNintch) got us through a really tough economic time when the district was experiencing financial difficulties,” she said. “We were able to maintain the staff. No layoffs. We did take a pay cut, but I think our people would have preferred to take the pay cut than see one of our own let go.”

Harris agreed that it is time to “kick the CSEA up a notch.”

“We’re taking it to another level,” he said. “Past practice has always been a certain benchmark for CSEA and every president before me and vice president have been in the status quo. I’m not a status quo kind of guy. I’m very collegial, I’m open and I believe we need to make our name bigger than what it is.”

To do that Harris said he would like to branch out to different areas and to build a bigger, more cohesive CSEA family statewide.

Lugo said Harris has the right idea.

“(We plan on) getting involved with our regional rep, our local community colleges in our region and county.” She said. “We never really networked with them, we want to start getting out there. Start attending more training so that we can get feedback so that we can bring it back to our membership and make them stronger.”

Lugo said having a strong executive team allows for the members to have faith and confidence in the union. She said classified employees do valuable work and should be respected by the district.

“Who’s opening up the doors?” asked Harris. “Who’s brewing the coffee? Who’s making the requisition orders? Who’s making sure their classrooms are clean and making sure the desks are ready. Who’s doing all that?”

Lugo’s answer: the classified staff.

“Many of our members have been with the district 25, 35, going on 40 years of service,” she said. “We have a lot to offer. We are the backbone of this district. The faculty teaches and I tip my hat to them. I give them all the kudos for being in front of students every day, but in order for them to come to work and teach our students, it takes the classified staff.”

Harris said he also respects the faculty and appreciates the amount of work professors do to teach his own children, but he said classified employees would like the same kind of respect for the work keeping a classroom clean.

Harris and Lugo agreed that the union leadership can be a thankless job. They have to use what little free time they have during the day to get things done, Harris said.

Members of the CSEA compel them to continue to work diligently, Lugo said.

“We’re a family.” she said. “Even though we’re a union and we all work under the district, we’re really a big extended family and we need to look out for each other. That’s our role as leaders.”

Harris said even though he is the president, he cannot be effective “without the wonderful women by his side.”

“I have one hell of a team,” he said. “Silvia, who’s my vice president, Lori Gorton who is my treasurer, Erica Dishon who’s my C-Pro, Deborah Peckenpaugh who is my secretary and Patricia Hinck who is my chief job steward.”

Harris said the women keep him grounded.

“I hold the title of president, but this is a team effort,” he said. “They’re all the presidents.”

Lugo agreed.

“I don’t even see myself as a leader,” she said. “I’m among my peers. And so I’ve been honored to be given this role and I take it very seriously. I’m humbled people believe in us to take this on.”

CSEA’s new team is still learning, but enthusiasm is high.

“We need CSEA as well,” said Harris. “That’s what I want all groups to say.”

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