Contra Costa County Teamsters secure strong contract extension

Local 856 members in Contra Costa County keep the County safe, clean, and healthy working as fire equipment mechanics, gardeners, cooks, maintenance workers, licensed vocational nurses (LVN), and more.

In 2016, employees in the County overwhelmingly voted to become members of Teamsters 856 and negotiated their first Teamster contract later that year — securing affordable access to the Teamsters 856 Kaiser plan, which raised take home pay for the vast majority of members.

Last month, Contra Costa County Teamsters voted to ratify a three-year contract extension.

“The new extension maintains the improvements made in their first contract and adds additional benefits and protections for the over 1800 members in the Health Services, General Services and Maintenance, and LVN/Aide units,” said Teamsters 856 Secretary-Treasurer/Principal Officer Peter Finn.

“We got a secure three years,” said Tracey Walker, a senior disease intervention technician. “While people are trying to tear unions down, we were able to secure certainty in uncertain times.”

Tracey Walker has worked for Contra Costa County for 27 years

In their first contract, Contra Costa members were able to substantially reduce the cost of health care — a major priority for workers in the County. Environmental Services Worker and Teamsters 856 shop steward, Mark Jones’ family felt the financial relief in a big way.

“I was on the County’s Kaiser health plan before we became Teamsters,” he said. “It was an $800 plan for my family of five. As Teamsters, I have essentially the same plan, but we started paying $175 a month and we received a 10% raise.”

Sarahvone Calhoun, a shop steward and LVN for the County, echoed Mark’s sentiment. “Not having to pay exorbitant costs for health care was important,” she said. “If you get a raise but have to give it back in health care costs then you have lost the battle.”

Sarahvone Calhoun is a shop steward and LVN for Contra Costa County

In addition to not raising the cost of health care for members on the Teamster Kaiser plan, the extension includes an additional 10% wage increase over another three-year period, giving members a total 20 percent wage increase over six years.

For many Contra Costa Teamsters, getting language in the agreement that improves the working conditions of temporary County employees was of greatest importance.

For the first time, temporary and per diem employees will receive bidding rights and seniority to create a pathway to permanent status. Since becoming Teamsters, members have successfully worked with the County to add nearly 200 permanent positions.

Mark Jones is an environmental services worker and shop steward

“There are people I’ve been working with for years who are temporary,” said Mark. “I’m working alongside a guy for five years and he’s got a family too, but when 4th of July comes around, I get time and a half and he doesn’t because he’s not permanent. Now we have language in our contract to address it.”

Tracey has been a dedicated union member for over 20 years and is an active Teamster member because she believes in the importance of workers knowing their rights and being able to advocate for themselves and each other. She was excited to see the advocacy on behalf of her temporary and per diem colleagues pay off. “We worked so hard to get language on temporary employees, but this is the first time I’ve seen it documented that they will get their just due,” she said.

The extension agreement also established a joint labor-management committee. The committee will include Teamster members and management who will be tasked with addressing issues impacting specific units or classifications.

Marina Becerra has been a mental health clinical specialist with Contra Costa County for six years

“I think setting aside time for joint labor-management meetings was excellent,” said Marina Becerra, a shop steward and mental health clinical specialist for the County. “It will put an end to stalling and should be a better way to work on issues.”

“Now there’s a commitment to be at the table,” said Sarahvone. “Now issues can be worked out and worked through to come up with a solution.”

Throughout each of the three bargaining units, the common thread around the strength and power secured in the contract agreement extension was that it was possible because members continue to stand together as a union.

“If we didn’t have a union, we’d be run over,” explained Mark. “I clean toilets for a living to them [management], and they often look down at you automatically for that. A union means the guy that cleans toilets has a voice and people hear me. A union evens the playing field.”