HOLLAND PATENT — Oneida County Educational Employees Local President John Brown has personified our union’s spirit with his selfless dedication to CSEA for nearly two decades.

It’s his devotion to being a union leader that led him to be honored with the 2022 Danny Donohue Leadership Award for the Local Government Division. Brown received the award at the 112th Annual Delegates Meeting in October.

“There were a lot of people in that room (at the CSEA Annual Delegates Meeting) who deserved that award more than me,” said Brown. “I’m flattered and grateful there are people who spoke on my behalf and think that what I do helps others. That’s what I agreed to do when I took the job.”

Brown started as a cleaner at the Holland Patent Central School District in 1989 and was eventually promoted to head custodian. He got more involved with our union when the unit president at the time retired. Over the past 20 years, Brown has served as unit president and became president of the Oneida Educational Employees Local in 2011.

As a union activist, Brown realizes the impact of his work on his co-workers.

“Union leaders have an awesome responsibility sometimes,” said Brown. “We’re going in to meet with management because someone could lose their job. That’s a pretty awesome responsibility.” 

Not one to seek the spotlight, Brown is happy to work behind the scenes to build relationships and find solutions to problems. 

“Those things don’t come without you having a decent reputation to go in and have those conversations,” said Brown. “You can’t go in and bang your fist on the table; you have to have some credibility.”

Brown said the best part of being involved in our union and becoming a leader is the friends you make along the way.

“The relationships I have with these people is worth more than any award anyone could ever give me,” said Brown. “I’ve made some amazing friends here, not just union friends, but good friends. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.” 

Helping school workers statewide

Brown tirelessly serves on multiple CSEA statewide, region and local committees, including as chair of CSEA’s Special Local Government Schools Committee.

Since taking the helm of the statewide schools committee, Brown has helped address issues facing school workers, such as safety and health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, layoffs and furloughs while schools were remote, publicizing the school bus driver shortage and figuring out the role of school resource officers regarding school security. 

Brown has leaned on his peers’ knowledge and expertise to help create new and innovative ways to reach CSEA members in school districts and represent them to the best of his ability.

With the insight he’s gained working with schools statewide, Brown said he feels like he’s better able to advocate for workers in smaller districts, including those in his local.

“I’m fortunate my wife is such a terrific person and lets me go and do the things I feel are important,” said Brown. “There will be a week where there are four nights where I’ll be somewhere else other than home during dinner time.”

Brown, who admits that he ‘likes to win once in a while’ against injustices to union members in his district, also keeps in mind the need to share his knowledge with other members so they can continue our union’s work when he retires.

— Nicholas Newcomb


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