Professional Staff Organization

Bob Roseth – PSO History

The following is a history from Bob Roseth of how the PSO began and what he did on behalf of professional staff.

Sit down and relax. It’s a moderately long story but I’ll try to hit just the highlights. PSO’s origins date to a public presentation made by a group of us to tell legislators who we were and why what we did mattered. At that point in time, state budgets were tight and the University administration had made a strategic decision to request salary increases only for faculty. We were cast adrift. Being the kind of people professional staff are, we began organizing in our own interest.

Some of us already knew a bit about our colleagues. We had learned, for example, that advisers and counselors were being paid less than their counterparts in community colleges. In fact, wages were so low that some were eligible for public assistance. We also knew that there was a large and growing disparity with market wages for many jobs.

The decision to abandon us was the final straw. Behind the stage for our presentations a number of us began talking. We needed better representation on and off campus. A number of the people there were much more savvy politically than I was, but they were equally motivated to do something.

A small group of us began meeting in a conference room within the facilities of the College of Education, where one of our founders was a counselor. We began to go through the planning stages of creating an organization. These included a public survey of our potential membership, asking what issues mattered to them and whether they agreed that they needed better representation. Another group began working on bylaws. Even at this early stage, we began talking about professional staff awards, because the university only gave awards to faculty at that time.

The wheels were set in motion and we launched our effort with a survey. As I recall, about 75% of respondents felt that professional staff needed better representation both on and off campus. Some months later, the PSO came into existence. I volunteered to be the first president.

Job One was to try to secure salary increases for our members. We gathered data about market disparities and set out to inform legislators. We would take time off from our regular jobs to drive to Olympia. I was coached by two women who had extensive political experience as lobbyists and legislative staffers. Legislators and their staff were happy to meet with us. The UW administration was somewhat discomfited, but for whatever reason decided to let us proceed. I remember some very tense meetings with the UW lobbyists. The UW had done its own salary surveys which showed the kinds of disparities of which we were all aware. I remember telling the chief lobbyist that it was one thing to be unaware of market gaps, but when reports were in and these gaps were 20 percent or more, the University needed to act. It did not want to be known as an employer who exploited its employees. I remember the pained expression on his face when I said this.

State budgets were tight but we were tenacious. At that time there was a public school teachers’ strike. I remember meeting with the chief staffer for the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Teachers had mobbed the entire capitol. She asked me who was entitled to a salary increase, teachers or professional staff. I thought for a moment. I had a son in Seattle schools. I said, “Look, if you have a dollar give it to teachers. They deserve it. But, if you took all the money that might be used for equitable salary treatment for UW professional staff and sprinkled it over the teachers, it wouldn’t amount to enough to make a difference.” I told this story to the UW lobbyist, who grimaced again.

I don’t recall the details about how long it took, but I think it was a couple of years. We were finally able to secure a specific allocation for professional staff who faced the most severe market disparities. We wrangled with the UW administration over how to administer these funds but eventually came to a satisfactory conclusion.

We created our own awards ceremony, with one of our core members harvesting gift certificates from the University Book Store. Years later, when UW leadership changed, they began giving staff awards. I remember going to the first ceremony. Recipient after recipient thanked the administration but followed that by saying, “What took you so long?”

After a few years of shepherding the organization through its birth and early years, it was time for me to fade into the sunset. I did give a speech, I think it was at the 15th anniversary, recounting this story. And I think it was about this time that they named an award after me.

There was indeed a village that created PSO. I am still in touch with a few of the other founders. It was a talented, committed group of individuals, generous with their time and expertise. And of course a regressive and indifferent administration provided a very effective foil for our efforts.

So, that’s a quick summary off the top of my head. I just celebrated my 70th birthday. I retired from the UW five years ago. When your email bounced into my box, I was in the process of sending out query letters to literary agents for the first novel I wrote a couple of years go. Ivy is a Weed is a mystery and a satire set, of course, on a university campus.