In June, classified employees of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) voted overwhelmingly to join Teamsters 856 as they push for improved wages, health care and other benefits. The addition of the more than 1,800 members in the WCCUSD bargaining unit means that Teamsters 856 is now 12,000 members strong.
“With this vote, workers at West Contra Costa Unified have come together to send a message: they deserve better,” said Teamsters 856 Secretary-Treasurer Peter Finn. “We will aggressively represent these new members and bring forward demands for fairness and respect on the job. As Teamsters, their voices will be amplified and the district should hear them – they are ready to fight and they have a strong union to back them.”
In a school district that serves more than 30,000 students, the new members of Local 856 work as maintenance employees, custodians, food service workers, special education instructional assistants, bilingual community school workers, campus security officers, and school secretaries. They banded together after suffering years of stagnant wages and eroding health benefits.
“My co-workers and I knew it was time for strong representation. That’s what this vote was about for us. It’s about having a union that will fight for us and give us a powerful voice,” said Heidi Estrella, an attendant clerk.
Andre Krashna knew the benefits of being a Teamsters 856 member firsthand. As an employee of not just WCCUSD, but also the Holiday Inn Express in San Francisco which is also represented by 856, he is very familiar with the union. He says he was excited that his WCCUSD voted to join the Teamsters.
“I was happy because 856 is a true union,” he said. “I’m really happy for the people who have been in the District for such a long time because now they have the opportunity to have a strong union.”
For more than a year, Reynaldo Hernandez, a plumber for the school district, and his coworkers organized and built a grassroots movement across the school district. They now join a growing number of Contra Costa County and local city workers in the region who have joined Local 856 to win strong contracts for public service employees.
“After seeing what Teamsters 856 has been able to accomplish for other county and school workers in Contra Costa County and how they have won tough contracts with good health care benefits, we knew it was time to organize to win the same quality representation at West Contra Costa Unified,” he said.
Fernando Mercado who works as a nutrition center food transporter, echoed Reynaldo’s sentiment. He said that not only has he seen Teamster union power through his dad and uncle who were Teamsters, he’s seen it in his community. “I know Teamsters are a powerful union,” he said. “I’ve seen good things happen at Contra Costa County and Mt. Diablo, and I want the same for us.”
During their final organizing committee meeting, Peter Finn welcomed the new WCCUSD Teamsters to the union, and urged them not to become complacent.
“Today marks a new day at WCCUSD,” he said. “All of you, all the work you did, that cannot stop as we go into contract negotiations…We’re going to demand fairness, and if you guys want to fight, we’re ready to fight.”