Big win for Contra Costa County Teamsters

About a year and a half ago, more than 1,700 Contra Costa County employees voted to join Teamsters 856. Since then, members have been working together to build union power in the County. From decreasing employee health care premiums to converting temporary positions into permanent, career jobs – Contra Costa County Teamsters have won many real improvements.

Contra Costa County Diagnostic Imaging members – from left to right: Jeff Jarmin, Phil Clarke, Cindy O’Brien

On October 1st, an agreement between the union and the County took effect reclassifying radiologic technologists and giving all diagnostic imaging employees the potential of a 25% raise depending on credentials, experience and years of service with the County.

“We were able to come to an agreement that reclassified all current Radiological Technologists into either a Diagnostic Imaging Technologist I, II, IIIA or IIIB,” said Local 856 Representative Corey Hallman. “Depending on the employees’ credential they received the potential of up to a 20% increase in salary. Lead positions were also created for both Ultrasound Technologist and Diagnostic Imaging Technologist that received an additional 5% raise.”

This win did not come without a fight — a fight that began even before the impacted employees became Teamsters.

“Quite a while back someone retired in our department and they were told by the retirement board that their on-call hours did not count towards their retirement pay,” said Phil Clarke, an ultrasound technologist and shop steward. “Up until then, we had been told they were mandatory, and therefore should have been counted.”

It turned out that years prior, the County changed the hours diagnostic imaging employees spent on-call (the hours staff must be available to work at any time outside of their normal shift) from mandatory to voluntary without notifying workers. To make matters worse, when employees tried to address the issue, nothing was done to fix it.

“We were devastated,” said Phil. “This meant I would basically lose about $20,000 per year from my retirement.”

For Cindy O’Brien, who is also an ultrasound technologist, their inability to get any traction on a solution to this problem was the reason she wanted to join Local 856. “When we worked on it before, we couldn’t get anywhere,” she said.

Once they were Teamsters, Phil, Cindy, and their coworkers jumped on the issue immediately. Along with Corey, they pressured the County to put into writing that their on-call hours were voluntary. “Once we did that, we told them we would refuse to volunteer because our salaries were too low,” said Phil.

According to Phil, the County ultrasound technologists put in about 104 – 120 on-call hours each month, but they weren’t being paid on par with their peers in other hospitals.

“Everyone in our department had been underpaid for years,” said Cindy. “We were about 25 to 40 percent below anyone in our field in this area.”

The members’ threat to stop standing on call put enough pressure on the County to write new job descriptions and classifications for members with specialty imaging licenses, such as CT scan or MRI, and raise the pay level of all the diagnostic imaging staff. With the agreement in mind, members agreed to begin voluntarily working on-call shifts.

The County dragged its feet for 10 months, and the inaction led the members to take more drastic action. Together they all refused to sign up for any on-call duty. The hospital began to scramble to figure out ways to manage without being fully staffed. Members took a hit too, but they decided their solidarity would be worth it in the end.

“Not standing call impacted me a lot financially,” said Jeff Jarmin, a radiologic technologist. “It was a loss of a couple thousand dollars a month. But what the County was doing was wrong and hurting us too. We all wanted to stick it out to show them that they can’t take advantage of us.”

Members stood together for five months. In July, their solidarity paid off when they reached a tentative agreement with the County that reclassifies members with a specialty and gives them all a significant pay raise. And last month, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the side letter agreement.

“We stuck together and sacrificed and now we’re getting paid fair wages equal to other technologists at other hospitals,” said Jeff.

“Without being with 856, I honestly believe this would have never happened,” said Phil. “Everybody in the department participating and staying together was because they knew that as Teamsters they had back up.”

All employees in the top steps of ultrasound technologist and diagnostic imaging technologist are now required to take a maximum of 120 hours of on-call duty per month. The intention of this new language is to get the Contra Costa County Employees’ Retirement Association (CCERA) to recognize the employees on-call duty hours as retirement compensable once again.

There’s still work to do, but members are more confident than ever they can make it happen.

“Teamsters follow through,” said Cindy. “The County was used to doing what they want with no pushback. Now we’re seeing the County have to go to meetings, be involved, and follow the rules. And we’re finally getting what we deserve.”