The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Gloria O'Brien Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

October 13, 2016


“Fighting for Workers' Rights”  October 13, 2016  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, O'Brien discusses her upbringing in Kansas, her early interests in horticulture and social justice activism, and the circumstances that led to her move to Oregon. She then details her experiences of living on the Oregon Coast and in the Oregon Coast Range, and describes her initial employment at OSU as a Biological Science Technician in the Department of Greenhouse Operations. From there, she provides an overview of the department's operations, including the roles that student assistants play as well as the facilities in which OSU's greenhouse workers perform their daily tasks. She likewise notes her own specific work, with particular attention paid to her efforts in integrated pest management. She rounds out this section of the interview with reflections on her life as a part-time student in OSU's Horticulture program.

The remainder of the session is devoted to O'Brien's association with sub-local 083 of the statewide Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In commenting on her union activities, O'Brien shares her thoughts on the relationship shared between OSU administrators and union representatives since the early 2000s; memorable union actions in which she has participated; the roles played by union stewards on campus; and her own tenure as president of the sub-local. She likewise provides insight into the mechanics of contract bargaining, and also her own perspective on several hurdles that the union is attempting to overcome, including a reduction in the total number of classified employees working in Oregon as well as negative public perceptions of unionized workers. The interview concludes with thoughts on faculty and graduate student unionization at OSU, and O'Brien's sense of the future direction of SEIU and of OSU writ large.