Local 856 represents over 13,000 individuals across northern California who work in both the private and public sectors. Depending on where you are, you can find members working as zookeepers, aircraft mechanics at the airport near you, LVNs at your community hospital, librarians at your local library, and more.
In San Francisco, Teamsters 856 represents over 100 employees at Edgewood Center for Children and Families. Eric Foster, a residential up night counselor and Teamsters 856 shop steward at Edgewood took some time out to talk about the work Edgewood does for children and families in the San Francisco community and his own unique transition to that work from the business world.
In your words, what is Edgewood Center for Children and Families?
Edgewood is a level 14, 24-hour, residential facility that caters to kids from age six to 17 who are dealing with different types of trauma and mental health issues by providing them with a safe place where they can be housed and receive treatment.
What does it mean to be a level 14 residential facility?
The highest level is either 15 or 16. At lower level facilities children may have behavioral issues and learning disabilities, but Edgewood is for kids who are dealing with a very wide spectrum of issues — from abandonment, to assault trauma, and PTSD — these kids have been through a lot.
You’ve worked at Edgewood for about four years. How’d you get started?
I went to school for business, and then worked on internet companies and startups and lost a lot. I decided I needed a break from business, and wanted to do something different. My father got me into this work because he does similar work.
First, I thought working at Edgewood would be a regular job, but I got there and learned of the trauma the kids were going through and realized it was my passion to help children. Working at Edgewood has taught me a lot about empathy, which is something I think I may have lacked before. Caring about the kids and relating to them has taught me so much, and allowed me to do my job at a high level.
What’s a workday like for you?
I work from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. I walk around the different cottages, which are set up by age and need, and check on the staff and kids to make sure everyone is feeling safe.
Nighttime is the time when kids are feeling most vulnerable. They’re having trouble sleeping, feeling abandoned, and wanting to refuse their medicine. I spend my time trying to get them settled and comfortable throughout the night, and then my colleagues and I help them get up for school the next morning and start their day.
Why is Edgewood important to the community?
Edgewood serves a group of people who feel hopeless. Having Edgewood there to provide a place where kids can feel safe and get back on track and back into society is important.
Why do you think it is important for staff to have a union in a workplace like Edgewood?
Edgewood is a great place, but in order for employees to do their job and serve this population, we need to feel supported and appreciated. Before we became Teamsters, my co-workers didn’t feel valued. Not feeling valued and being paid wages that aren’t livable can affect your work because you’re worried about providing for your own family.
Since becoming members of Teamsters 856, we have a voice, we’ve been able to negotiate higher wages, and we can better take care of our families.
We don’t want a union versus management divide because we’re all working together for the common good — doing the best for the kids. Everyone’s goal here is that kids leave feeling like they matter and they can succeed.