Roberta Patton lives in the house where she grew up in Millbrae, the community that means so much to her. It’s the house on the lot her parents bought in 1949 and the house her family lived in while her parents ran a union sheet metal shop in San Francisco.
Roberta is a strong union advocate from a family with a long history in the Bay Area labor movement — going all the way back to the Teamsters who drove horse-drawn wagons. Her family and upbringing are part of the reason she is such a dedicated Teamsters 856 shop steward today and the reason she raised her kids to understand the importance of being union strong as well.
Learn more about Roberta Patton in this month’s Local 856 Member Spotlight interview below.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I’ve worked at Northwest Administrators for 11 years. I am a pension claims adjuster. I process the applications of people who are ready to retire. I love my job because I love working with people. We take care of a lot of Local 856 members.
Why did you become a Teamsters 856 shop steward?
I wanted to help us get a better deal. It’s important to me that everybody gets a fair shake and no one is walked on by management.
Three years ago, when Sandra (Bowman), Marcela (Esqueda) and I were elected shop stewards, we started an annual picnic. We started it to bring our co-workers together and heal any divides felt at work. We barbecue — thanks to our cook, Tony Hernandez (another co-worker) — and let all the kids run around and play some games. We just eat and relax.
Why do you believe it is important for you and your co-workers to stand together in a union?
Because we need good representation and good-paying jobs. And growing up, my parents ran a union sheet metal shop. My mother was the owner and my father was a sheet metal worker.
You grew up in a union household. What was it like?
They used to do all the grocery stores — Raley’s, Lunardi’s, Petrini’s, Lucky, Safeway. They did all the ductwork for the air conditioning, heating, and cooling systems. My dad would make everything from gutters and chimney pipes right in the shop on Mission in San Francisco. They worked all over the state and would pull union sheet metal workers from the union halls in the cities where the jobs were located. They had 10 guys all the time and could pull 40 to 50 more depending on the job.
Do you know why it was important to your parents for their shop to be union?
It started with my grandfather. He ran Marshall Sheet Metal out of the shop first, starting in the 1930s. Then my parents took over and it became B&B Sheet Metal (for their names: Betty and Bob). They all wanted to make a good living and they knew they’d get more business with union trained people. My dad was in the Sheet Metal Workers Union himself for over 40 years. I’m fourth-generation union. My great-grandfather worked at the ports in San Francisco and was a Teamster back in the horse and buggy days.
Your mom owned the shop. What was it like watching her at work?
My mom was a tough cookie. You didn’t mess with her. When I was little and it was still Marshall Sheet Metal, she and my aunt would work alternating weeks handling all the books. Eventually, my mom handled it all herself.
How has growing up in a strong union household influenced you?
I’ve passed it down to my kids. When my oldest son was getting out of the Airforce and was undecided about what he wanted to do, he told me the best advice I gave him was to learn a union trade and always have it to fall back on. He became a union concrete mason. I also try to be active in our union.
You are a very active member. Why is that important to you?
I think the Teamsters are one of the strongest unions. We all need to know what’s going on. It’s educational. We need to know the fights and learn what we can do to support each other.
You’re very active in efforts to raise money for breast cancer research. Where do you get your passion?
Well, I started walking years ago when a couple of friends were going through treatment. Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer, so the walk became my fight. Unfortunately, the two ladies I started walking for are no longer with us. They were there for me, so my goal is to be there for anyone who might be going through it now that needs support. I promised my kids 30 years when I was first diagnosed and that is a promise I intend to keep.
A special thank you to Roberta for sharing her story with all of us!