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Member Spotlight

Martine Wigham

Martine Kuyken Wigham came to the US from Belgium in the early nineties and met and
married her Ernie in 1995. Martine has an uncle who lives in Cheshire and, while here on a visit
with him, met Ernie in a place called the Crazy Al’s in Veneta and has been with him ever since.
In Belgium, she worked on big corporate clients and had to travel a lot and interpret things in
different languages and it was a very busy work schedule. Belgium has great worker protections
and benefits and the remote work options, even back then, were much more progressive than
now. She worked via fax for one week a month and maintained a 9 month busy long distance
relationship with Ernie. After 15 years in the corporate world, Ernie proposed, she accepted,
and started her 6 month Visa on the path to becoming a US citizen.

The Register Guard had a classified ad for a position at U of O for an admissions
coordinator at the American English Institute. The position had everything to do with visas and
being a foreigner coming to the US for studies, and it was right up her alley. On top of
admissions coordinator, after 9/11, the government designated a few people per university who
could hold a position to help with official government paperwork for international students. As an
international advisor, she was able to help with student visas linked to education. Since then,
she’s amassed a sizeable number of recognitions, awards and accolades from all across the
University. Including the MLK award, numerous accolades from department heads, deans,
presidents, faculty, staff and students that she’s helped over her 25 years here.

Tell me about what you’ve done for U of O?
“I made the job at AEI my own over the years and it was wildly successful. My idea
was to work directly with the director of AEI and also with the Linguistics department head to
recruit international students. I played a major part in connecting the English requirement for
international students coming to the US, and not just in Oregon, but the country. My cost saving
idea for UO and all over, was to recruit students from Arab speaking countries. I was very
familiar with Muslim customs, culture, and communication styles and was able to connect with
people over there who wanted to send their kids to America to study. Particularly right after 9/11,
there was a lot of stigma with Arab speaking countries and I was a sort of go between for the
government, immigration, the administration, and the students and their families. We went to the
embassies to recruit and worked with them on scholarships and paperwork and in less than a
year, we went from a 5% Arab population, to more than 20%.

I worked for AEI for 20+ years and I loved that job. I worked with the PPPM/Art
History/Product design departments for 5 years starting in 2018. I am currently slated to be
medically separated after 25 years of service. I have 2 masters in Germanic Linguistics and in
Education and was accredited to teach Flemish, Dutch, English and German as a second
language. With all those credentials, the job worked for many years until I started suffering
medical problems and received pushback on remote work from my boss. It’s indescribable the
pleasure that I received from helping people, including foreigners who were 17, never left their
country, and suddenly found themselves in the US and at a big university. I was empathetic to
their plight and got a lot of satisfaction in having parents reach out to see how their kids were
doing, having kids reach out and help them with their problems, and genuinely helping people
get a quality American education. It was my dream job.”

What do you consider the main benefit of being a unionized classified worker on

“In Belgium and France, unions are so strong that if things don’t go their way, there is
rioting in the streets. Here I see the main benefit of being in the union as being part of the larger
whole of people who do the work and run the place. Frankly, the disrespect that happens on
campus needs a constant watchful eye and the people need a voice in the way things are run.
There are absolutely no benefits, no job certainty, and no protection without people to watch
over the workers, and who better to look out for the people than each other? Workers who care
about their campus community and help to get you the respect you deserve and restore that
sense of humanity in the workplace; those are the real heroes around here. Who better to undo
the wrongs that management can do to everyday workers than the people who know how to do
the job? There is no other way than having a union to protect you that I know of in the
workplace. I’ve learned that people care, how much the exec team and the leaders put in for
other people, and how they want to illuminate the best and the worst that this place has to offer.
To me the U of O had tended towards a lot of disrespect towards all of the unions on campus
but I hope that this is changing with new leadership all over. My wish in all honesty is that
people that care get more involved in decisions that happen at the UO and that all that care
radiates out into the campus community.”

The President recently reached out to you about your lengthy service at UO. What would
you like to say about that, and what would you like to see as his priorities in the coming

“It was a surprise to me to have the President reach out. No one was in the office at my
current position so he left a message. I thought that that gesture of deciding to leave nice
messages to employees, and, from what I’ve heard, he was doing three a day. I was pleasantly
surprised to have a nice genuine gesture come from the incoming president to an employee
with 25 years of service. That reminded me about why I love to work for the UO. It brought me
back to the days of Frohnmeyer who was personable, everybody knew him, he was genuine
and humane and it was refreshing. That was the first time since Frohnmeyer that I got a
message that was positive and encouraging from a president.

The irony of it was that he probably went through the recognitions and years of service to
prioritize who to call first. And right there, you see the discrepancy; I had already been told that I
was not an employee because of my medical issues, and then the poor guy reached out to me
unbeknownst to him. I hope that that was a positive step towards my continued employment
here. I’m hoping for the UO, that he will be a teaching president, a leader to look up to, a great
example for the campus community, and my wish is that UO, under his leadership, is that he will
change the tone from Schill’s leadership approach, to one of his own and something that brings
us back to the people aspect of who runs the UO. That message showed me certain problems
with the University however. That there is a disconnect between what’s happening on the
ground and what the people at the top are getting reported to them from below. I hope that the
university either learns from his kind demeanor and gesture, and that a culture shift is coming
under our new leader. The UO is making a lot of changes at all levels, athletics, CSUs,
departmental changes and I just hope they are for the best and that he steers the ship in the
right direction.”

What do you want incoming employees at the UO to know?
“The camaraderie of classifieds on campus is wonderful and welcoming and an instant
community that I’m proud to be a part of. The people that have been there for a while will be
there for you. If you treat people right and ask for help, people will be there for you and stick up
for you and they have the heart to look out for their coworkers and will help everyone. Perhaps
that’s the most important and positive aspect of work on campus; the people who want to see
you succeed will help to make sure that we all do.”

Mohamed Mounir

Mohamed Mounir (second from left) surrounded by fellow members of the CPFM custodial staff.

“I became a Steward because I wanted to be involved in our union and help other workers. Working at the bottom of the scale made me see that our lowest paid workers aren’t appreciated nor get the respect they deserve. As a Steward, I get to help people who are the most vulnerable and it is very rewarding. Everyone needs an ally in the room.”

I first met Mohamed Mounir during the pandemic and only via zoom. I had just gotten involved with our union as a Steward and regularly saw Mohamed in the monthly Steward roundtable. He always offered deeply considered input and I heard others referencing and congratulating him on his recent new job position. After meeting Mohamed in person and serving on other committees with him, I was able to ask him questions about his story and how and why he is involved with our union.

Originally a police officer in Morocco, Mohamed joined the UOPD in 2016 as a Community Service Officer. This was his first experience in a unionized environment as the police force in Morocco cannot unionize because they are not allowed to strike. Knowing that he valued the union and benefits at the University, but looking for more opportunities for advancement, Mohamed started working for UO Facilities as a custodian.

The pay scale for campus custodians is the lowest on campus (excluding student-employees) and advancement is slow so Mohamed re-evaluated his options. One day, while perusing the SEIU 503 Statewide website, he clicked on the “benefits” tab and saw that SEIU offers free Associate Degrees to members via an agreement with an online accredited community college. Mohamed had noticed the high demand on campus for folks with accounting skills and initiated the straightforward enrollment in the college’s accounting program. The whole program was free – including textbooks and extra classes in finance! Mohamed achieved his AA degree in Accounting in December of 2020.

Mohamed applied for several Accounting Tech positions on campus and quickly landed a job in the Chemistry Department, less than a year before the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) re-organization. He transitioned into the Central Business Office (CBO) for the newly transformed CAS and processes invoices and other business operations.

Now, Mohamed is gaining on-the-job experience while considering applying to the UO’s BA in Accounting program, with a goal of becoming a Fiscal Coordinator. He’s balancing time constraints as he is also serving as a Steward, is a Contract Action Team (CAT) member, is on the newly-formed 085 Communications Committee, just became secretary of the Sub-local Executive Board for 085, and is on the 503 Board of Directors as the Assistant Director for Higher Education!

I asked Mohamed what he thinks the priorities of our union should be and he, characteristically, gave very thoughtful answers:

1. Create an anti-racist union and increase diversity.
“This area is majority white, but the workforce is changing. Our union should be prepared and welcoming of diversity in higher education.”

2. Find a pathway to advancement for those in lower-wage positions.
“I cannot accept that you put in 20-years at a job and leave in the same economic situation as you came in. This is a university and it should be a priority to educate and make individual situations and outcomes better.”

3. Climate Justice and leaving a better tomorrow for our children.
“As a 503 Board member, we have a budget that we can use to influence political priorities, but to really build a momentum for change involves increasing awareness in the rank-and-file members.”

Thank you for all you do for our union, Mohamed!