State union leader steps down after performance complaint

The leader of one of Oregon’s largest unions has stepped down after a June complaint about her performance. 

Members of the Oregon chapter of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees were told of Stacy Chamberlain’s departure in an email Monday morning. 

“The Oregon AFSCME Executive Committee and Executive Director Stacy Chamberlain have mutually agreed that Ms. Chamberlain will depart Oregon AFSCME effective August 31, 2023,” said the email, from AFSCME President Fred Yungbluth. “No investigation of Ms. Chamberlain was undertaken by the council as we worked toward a mutual resolution. The Executive Committee wishes to thank Ms. Chamberlain for her work and passion on behalf of our members and the working people of Oregon.”

The Salem-based union represents more than 35,000 government and public sector workers in Oregon, including many state and city of Salem employees.

The union’s board is scheduled to meet Sept. 30 to decide on a process for hiring a new executive director.

Chamberlain worked for the union for almost two decades and became executive director in 2018. She did not respond to an email from Salem Reporter Monday.

Union spokesman David Kreisman declined to say whether Chamberlain was paid a settlement.

Union leaders at the time of the complaint and again Monday declined to discuss the allegations made against Chamberlain, which was sent to the union’s executive board June 14. Joe Baessler, the union’s associate director, who’s serving as interim executive director, said it was an internal union issue.

“I don’t really want to air our dirty laundry out all over the place,” he said Monday.

Willamette Week reported June 28 that the letter raised concerns about her “treatment of subordinates and her management style.”

But Baessler said the union would be conducting an investigation to review its practices more generally.

“We want to take a hard look at our culture and address the things that were brought up in the complaint and make sure we are living our values and doing the best job that we can,” he said.

He said union leaders specifically want to improve communication with rank-and-file members and ensure that workers understand why union leaders are making the choices they do or asking members to undertake specific actions. 

While the union’s recent negotiations with the state produced a good contract, he said members need more buy-in and understanding of the process.

“There was a lot of breakdowns in that communication and we want to do better at that,” he said.

Baessler said the union did not investigate Chamberlain because her attorney approached leaders after she was placed on paid administrative leave in June.

She “made it clear that she no longer wished to continue working at AFSCME,” Baessler said. He said he didn’t know why, and hasn’t spoken to Chamberlain, but attorneys for both parties discussed a way to have her exit the role fairly.

Yungbluth responded to questions from Salem Reporter about the impact of Chamberlain’s departure and the work to improve communication and culture with a general statement.

“Oregon AFSCME continues our great tradition of advocating for the working people of Oregon. Our focus has and always will be on providing the best possible representation of our members in our workplaces, supporting the well being of the communities we serve, by organizing unorganized workers, mobilizing workers to participate in the political process and fighting to gain and defend the best possible working standards through contracts and legislation,” he said in an email.

This article was updated to note AFSCME would not say whether Chamberlain was paid a settlement.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.