MEA-MFT, 1232 E 6th Ave., Helena, MT 59601


For release: April 19, 2012

Contact: Eric Feaver, MEA-MFT President, 800.398.0826 or 442.4250

MEA-MFT celebrates Members of the Year

Shannon Bender of Great Falls, Cecil B. Crawford of Missoula, Sandy Osborne and Kari Cargill of Bozeman honored


Nearly 400 MEA-MFT members from across the state honored three of their fellow members at a gala celebration held in Missoula recently. The event took place in conjunction with MEA-MFT’s annual Representative Assembly. MEA-MFT members were joined by family and friends of the honorees at the celebration banquet.


Listen to our Members of the Year interviewed on radio news.


MEA-MFT is Montana’s largest union, representing 18,000 public employees across the state, including educators, state and local government employees, and health care employees.


Members of the Year are chosen annually for their outstanding service to Montana citizens and for their union leadership. “These folks exemplify the incredible dedication and hard work that make Montana’s public employees such an important part of our state,” said MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver.


“Public employees provide services that help Montana families, communities, and businesses thrive. The work they do matters to this state.” MEA-MFT Members of the Year for 2012 include the following:


Shannon Bender, Great Falls: Public Employee Member of the Year


Shannon Bender is a family advocate at Cascade County Head Start in Great Falls. She works with parents and families of children in Head Start, the program that gives low-income preschool children the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.


“Head Start is literally a miracle worker for many families and their kids,” said MEA-MFT staff member Jerry Rukavina as he introduced Bender at the awards banquet. “Head Start breaks the cycle of poverty and gives children a shot at a successful life. And Shannon Bender is the MVP of the Head Start team.”


Bender serves as president of her local union and on the MEA-MFT Board of Directors. She had no union background before she was elected president eight years ago, she told the banquet crowd. She soon learned that when employees have a voice in the workplace, “it helps us do a better job.”


To that end, Bender has worked hard to build better relationships with management. “We’re all here for the same thing – for the children and families,” she said. “What we do every day counts – it matters to the children we serve and their families.”


Cecil B. Crawford, Education Support Professional of the Year


Cecil B. Crawford works with Native American students and other students in Missoula and Seeley Lake. He teaches art and tutors students in math, English, and “whatever teachers need me to do.”


Perhaps most important, he helps students stay in school and thrive. “Everything he does is geared toward helping his students be successful in all walks of life,” said his co-workers, Sheri Postma and Carleen Hathaway, as they introduced Crawford at the banquet.


Crawford told the banquet crowd that he had a dream years ago that motivated him to work with children. He moved from the Blackfeet Reservation to Missoula to become a bilingual tutor in the Native American Studies program at Hellgate High School during the school year and a school physical plant engineer during the summer.


Crawford teaches beading, drumming, and other aspects of Native American culture. He also helps Native American kids navigate the high school world. “I know the problems they’re going through,” he said. These students were often invisible before. Now they participate in every sport, plus orchestra, band, student council, and more, he said.


Crawford now travels to four high schools in Missoula and Seeley Lake, working with about 180 students. He serves as director at large on the MEA-MFT Board of Directors.


Kari Cargill and Sandy Osborne, Faculty Members of the Year


Sandy Osborne and Kari Cargill are co-presidents of the Associated Faculty of Montana State University-Bozeman (AFMSU). Osborne, a professor of family and consumer sciences, represents tenure-track faculty. Cargill, a professor of microbiology, represents nontenure track faculty.


In addition to preparing students for good jobs, Osborne and Cargill have taken a lead in giving faculty a stronger voice on the job.


“It is only because of these two that MSU-Bozeman has a union,” said MEA-MFT Organizing Director Melissa Case as she introduced Osborne and Cargill at the banquet.


MSU-Bozeman was the last campus in the Montana University System without a faculty union. Osborne and Cargill were instrumental in forming AFMSU, which was voted in by faculty three years ago after a multi-year organizing effort.


“I get to talk about microbiology to 300 people a semester, and that’s kind of my idea of heaven,” said Cargill. Being a nontenure faculty member for 20 years, however, “is a precarious thing," she said.


That’s partly why Cargill got involved in forming a faculty union. “Who wouldn’t want to have a voice in their work?” she said.


“We were greatly helped and supported by MEA-MFT and by other higher education faculty who came from Havre, Missoula, Dillon, and other places,” said Osborne. She noted that AFMSU members recently bargained and ratified their first contract. “We’re exhausted and also energized and humble and grateful,” she said. “I’m proud to call MEA-MFT my family.”



MEA-MFT represents 18,000 k-12 teachers and school support staff (education support professionals); state, county, and municipal employees; health care employees; Head Start employees; and higher education faculty.