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New (Chief) Steward in Town!

Jean Morningstar returns to UHP Executive Committee

JULY 4, 2019—Jean Morningstar, who served as UHP president from 1998 to 2013, is now our chief steward, succeeding Lucille Miller, who retired last month.

Jean's history with UConn Health and UHP goes back to 1982, when she started as a reseach assistant. She had relcoated with her PI and his department from the University of Iowa. But it was a rough start, and it took another four years for things to get back on track.

Jean rejoined UConn Health as a research associate 3 in 1986, and in the eight years that followed, she would become a union rep and de facto steward, join the negotiating team, and be elected first vice president.

Your first stint as a state employee was a brief one. What happened?

I chose the state retirement plan and was immediately let go during my probationary period for choosing that plan. I had no right to grieve this action since management had the right to do that. I was young and did not know what to do. Fortunately, my PI hired me with his VA funds. For four years I was a VA employee with no benefits. In 1986 my PI received a new NIH  grant. I applied and was hired to my own job as a research assistant 3 at UCHC and my lab was located at the VA.

That's when things started to stabilize and you became more involved in our union?

There were many issues with the labs over there but the research animals etc. were located in Farmington. I started calling UHP for answers to many questions and was recruited to be the new union rep at the VA. The VA probably had around 30 research assistants that were UCHC employees.

Eventually I started representing the members with management.  UHP did not have a steward structure at the time but I was appointed the cochair of the research assistants committee. Eventually I was promoted to a research associate 1 and my lab moved over to the main hospital.

I ran and was elected as union rep for my area. I also was recruited to represent research assistants who were applying for reclassification under the OJE system. I was also recruited to be on a negotiating team and in 1994 was elected as first vice president. In 1998 I was elected as president.

For the benefit of those who don't know, what have you been up to since your last term as UHP president?

On July 1, 2013, I began my term as First Vice President of AFT CT. AFT CT represents 30,000 employees in CT including UHP. UHP is the largest bargaining unit of AFT CT. I have been the First VP of AFT CT since that time, being re-elected in 2015 and 2017.

You continued to be a member in good standing during your time as an AFT CT officer. Why was that important to you?

It is always important to maintain my standing as a member of UHP. I represented UHP and all the other employees of AFT CT but I wanted to maintain my membership and ties to UHP. UHP is a union that I am proud to be a member of, and I did not want to give that up. Luckily, the UHP Constitution made that a possibility.

As you remained involved in UHP over the last several years, what are your observations about our union today compared to when you were president?

The union has expanded but the problems remain the same. HR has turned over personnel so much that a lot of the contract interpretation needs to be cleared up. Our members are still very engaged and the Executive Committee has also become way more active and involved. Our members are way more involved in politics and elections which is a good thing.

What inspired your to return to the UHP executive committee, and do you expect being an officer again -- and in a different role -- will take some getting used to? 

The Chief Steward, Lucille Miller, announced she was retiring and would not be running again to be Chief Steward. I had been helping some of the Stewards with complicated cases, and I thought my previous experience could be helpful going forward. I was approached and asked if I would consider running for the position. I was missing some of the day-to-day contact with members, and I absolutely abhor that the Health Center does not follow our contract. It will be tough to “stay in my lane” but I absolutely trust Bill and Ivonne to always do the right thing. Any help I can be is what I would like to offer.

What are you most looking forward to as chief steward?

I am looking forward to teaching new stewards, recruiting more stewards, and empowering the membership in general.

What do you see as the biggest challenge(s) facing UConn Health, UHP, or working people in general?

I see the biggest problem here at the Health Center is to protect our rights as members under our contract. We need to continue to elect politicians who will respect organized labor and fend off those forces that would attack and undermine the working class. Protecting our pay, our pensions, and our health care is paramount to our survival. Engaging the membership and getting them active is crucial to our survival. We need to connect the dots as to how important elections are in our daily lives as public employees.

What else would you like to say to our membership?

I would like to thank the membership for their continued support of UHP and me in particular. I look forward to meeting all the new people and reconnecting with all of my former colleagues.

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