Oleksiak looks back at history-making role

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Oleksiak looks back at history-making role

Voice: September 2018

A year ago, Jerry Oleksiak made history by becoming the first PSEA president to serve in a governor’s cabinet.

Looking back, Oleksiak acknowledged that weighing Gov. Tom Wolf’s offer to become state secretary of labor and industry wasn’t an easy decision to make.

“That call from the governor was completely unexpected, and he told me, ‘before you say no, come and see me,’’’ Oleksiak recalled. “I thought long and hard about it, and I called him on July 4 (2017) from the NEA-RA and accepted.’’

That made the PSEA Board of Director’s meeting later that month interesting, to say the least. A new officer team had to be put in place. Dolores McCracken, then vice president, became president, and the board elected then treasurer Rich Askey as vice president, and former Northeastern Region president Jeff Ney as treasurer, effective Sept. 2, 2017.

Oleksiak said he experienced a bit of a learning curve heading the state Department of Labor and Industry, but has settled in and is enjoying his job.

“The thing I was most concerned about was I was very comfortable with the staff at PSEA. I knew when one of them or a group of them came to see me that I was getting advice that was in the best interests of the Association,’’ he said. “I was concerned if I’d find that at Labor and Industry, but I did and we have a great team.’’

A major similarity between his former role as PSEA president and his position as labor and industry secretary is serving working families.

“It’s an executive position, and I have to make sure that the laws and policies are carried out, but I do feel like I’m able to advocate for working men and women,’’ Oleksiak said. “We are dealing with people who are hurt on the job, who are out of work, who are looking for new skills to find work, people who have disabilities.’’

In addition, there is also “industry’’ involved in the department’s work. Addressing businesses’ needs and issues with their workforces is equally important, and Oleksiak has been part of business roundtables and task forces made up of representatives from organized labor and business groups.

He said the one question he gets asked most is, “What is the governor really like?’’

“He is all that he appears to be. He is genuine, he is honest, he is funny,’’ Oleksiak said. “And I can tell you Gov. Wolf is very committed to public education and to working families, and he is very supportive of organized labor.’’

Oleksiak still follows PSEA on social media, and he said he talks occasionally with the officers.

He went to the Gettysburg Summer Leadership Conference in July to visit with PSEA members and to attend the governor’s speech at the conference’s opening session.

“I still very much respect PSEA, and I wish the Association well,’’ Oleksiak said. “PSEA has been a big part of my life.’’