A year ago, the classified employees of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD or the District) voted overwhelmingly to become members of Teamsters 856. And last month, they ratified their first contract as Teamsters and proved what can happen when working people stand together.
“Just last year we were welcoming these new members into Local 856,” said Teamsters 856 Secretary-Treasurer/Principal Officer Peter Finn. “And now these members have ratified a contract they can be proud of that will positively impact their lives and their families’ lives.”
Gary Abeyta is a head custodian for WCCUSD and he was a part of the team that worked to bargain their first Teamsters 856 contract. “I figured whether we win, lose or draw, we needed the opportunity to get into the fight,” he said.
1,800 WCCUSD Teamster members got into the fight and stood in solidarity together until their negotiations team reached an agreement with the District that made many improvements without any concessions.
“We kept fighting and wouldn’t back down,” said Monica Byrd, a campus security officer, shop steward, and member of the bargaining team. “By not budging on certain proposals, they saw that we were serious. It was time to even the playing field and get what we deserve without the District taking anything away from us.”
Under the terms of the agreement, WCCUSD Teamsters will receive a wage increase every year of the three-year contract. The agreement also maintains that the District will pay 80% of Kaiser health care costs this year, increasing to 90% in 2019 under a comparable Kaiser plan sponsored by the Teamsters Health Fund.
“The cost of health care was eating up our paychecks and people with families were paying almost $500 a month,” said Monica. “We save so much under the Teamsters Health Fund that it’s like a raise. It’s a savings of about $100 for me that adds to my grocery budget and gives me some extra money each month.”
The agreement also guarantees pro-rated benefits for part-time employees, fair pay for bus monitor work, mandates a fair testing process and range increases for food service workers, and expands the WCCUSD apprenticeship program.
“Allowing for a lengthened testing period for food service workers with an incentive to earn a higher range once the test is passed will help fill vacancies in food service,” said Veronica Diaz, Teamsters 856 representative. “Our hope is that with a complete staff, workers’ compensation injuries will go down and morale will go up. No one wants to come to work feeling a lack of support, and that is what we wanted to change with this round of negotiations.”
Sandra Ramirez has worked for the District for 16 years, most recently as a lunch worker. She is excited about the increase and what the changes to the Food Safe Certification mean for employees in her classification. “I’ve been telling my co-workers that this is why it’s important that we support our union,” she said. “Because now we can see the difference a strong union can make.”
Janice Grant is an instructional assistant for WCCUSD. She said that since becoming a Teamster, she’s learned a lot about how a union works and that empowered her to get more active in Local 856.
“It was absolutely awesome to be part of the process,” she explained about her experience as a member of the negotiations team. “Going through a bargaining session then coming back and sharing the information with my co-workers made me feel proud.”
That sense of pride and empowerment seemed to be echoed throughout the District. “I’m proud that we took big steps forward instead of little steps backwards,” said Gary.
WCCUSD Teamsters plan to continue to take steps forward by keeping Local 856 strong.
“Look at Wisconsin where their unions were weakened then everything began to be taken away from workers,” said Monica. “If we don’t keep our union strong, they could walk all over us, we wouldn’t have job security, and they wouldn’t have any reason to bargain with us for any improvements.”
Read more about what happened in Wisconsin and what Teamster members can do to prevent it from happening to Local 856 at www.856Strong.org.