Ralph Miller and Theresa Avendano

*Ralph Miller recently celebrated thirty four years with The Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Officers’ Union AFSCME Local 685. His peers would agree that the celebration is indeed, theirs.

A former NFL gridiron star, Miller brings the same strength and commitment to his presidency of the Los Angeles County Probation Officers’ Union AFSCME Local 685 that he brought to the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Oilers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Diego Chargers, the New York Giants, and the San Francisco 49ers and the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Roughriders and the Toronto Argonauts.

To Local 685 members and to troubled teens, he’s the “unsung hero,” according to President Gerald W. McEntee at the 2010 Convention of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, held in Boston, Massachusetts, who cited Miller’s successful efforts to turn around a young gang member’s life

Miller received praise at the national level for his dedication to the at-risk teens in his care since 1976, when he first joined the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

He has served in Central Juvenile Hall, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, Camp Barley Flats, Camp Joseph Scott, the East Los Angeles Area Office, Camp Headquarters and The Camp Community Transition Program.  

Probation officers are law enforcement professionals, who routinely deal with the same community confronting police officers: murderers, rapists, armed robbers, car-jackers, home invaders, and child molesters.

Juveniles, however, can be more volatile than their more mature criminal counterparts; many are gang members who don’t respect authority, reject structure, and resent being incarcerated. Luckily, professionals like Miller, are there to guide at-risk youth, becoming an important link to keep the community and the offender in a safety zone. Miller used his experience as a professional football player to make an indelible — and effective– impression on his young charges.

For example, Teresa Avendano was an at-risk teenager who was sentenced to a Probation Camp at the age of sixteen. When she was assigned to Camp Scott, she quickly realized that Ralph Miller, the man in charge of her destiny, was no push-over:

“I heard he had a reputation for being a no-nonsense officer. Then, when I met him, I knew I really better get myself together.”

Teresa went on to serve six months at Camp Scott, and never offended again. While volunteering on a political campaign, she ran into Mr. Miller, as she still calls him. She has never forgotten the positive impact Ralph Miller had on her life: no longer a teenager on the edge, she is now a successful organizer for AFSCME Local 3299.  

When he was assigned to work at Camp Barley Flats, it was a work camp that housed older teenage boys in the age range of 16 to 18 years old.  Some of their duties included building rock dams, planting trees, working with fire fighters to contain the many forest fires that break out in California forest and trail and campground maintenance.  Miller recalls one young man came to the camp with a particularly disruptive attitude.  Miller along with a camp teacher organized a special group of young men called The B-Flats.  

These young men had to earn the opportunity to be a part of this group with good behavior, they also participated in a myriad of field trips or they would read poetry in a rap music style for special organizations celebrating Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Hispanic Awarness Month and others.  This one young man who worked so hard to participate in this special group, that he was one of the highest achieving youngsters in camp and Mayor of Camp Barley Flats.  After completing his six month sentence at the camp, Miller accidentally came in contact with him, he had graduated from college and utilized the skills he learned at the camp he had become a fire fighter for the City of Los Angeles.  He credits Mr. Miller with leading him down the right path.

Miller’s devotion to Local 685, like his devotion to his young charges, has been a driving force in a distinguished career as a union activist. A native of Alabama, Ralph Miller attended Alabama State University before graduating from California Lutheran University, where he chaired the Black Student Union while playing college football. Miller played on Cal Lutheran’s national championship team and he became a founding member of the NFL Player’s Union, which joined the AFL-CIO in 1974. He served as a player’s rep in all three football leagues. After transitioning to his career in public safety with the Probation Department, he became a Union Steward three months later. Miller was first elected to the Local 685 Executive Board in 1978, and became Union President in 1997. Miller’s other service with AFSCME includes serving as Vice President to District Council 36 from 1995-1999, President from 1997-2001, President of AFSCME P.E.O.P.L.E. in California (PAC), and Member of the AFSCME Judicial Panel.

Miller currently serves as a Vice President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Treasurer, Coalition of County Unions; and as a member of the Board of Directors of numerous public safety organizations. His positions have never been sheltered. Instead, Ralph Miller has been at the forefront of many of today’s toughest issues, advocating for his membership. Among his more recent accomplishments as President of AFSCME Local 685 was negotiating the biggest pay raise in the history of the union by mobilizing more than 1,000 members-representing nearly one-third of the membership — to protest, along with community activists, before the Board of Supervisors. The membership of Local 685 is now approximately 6,000 strong and growing.