Strength in Numbers: Meet Noven Feria, Mount Diablo Unified School District Teamster

Noven Feria is a Teamsters 856 shop steward and a longtime custodian for Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD). In this interview, he talks about his work, how he and his coworkers became Teamsters, and why he’s proud of his union.

Local 856 Secretary-Treasurer/Principal Officer Peter Finn, Noven Feria, and Noven’s wife, Leni

Tell me about your work and how you got started.
I’m a custodian at Loma Vista Adult Education in the Mount Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD). I’ve worked for MDUSD since 1998. I got started there when I was working as a bus washer, and a guy I went to church with in Vallejo told me about the job. I came in and applied, and got the position.

What do you love about your work?
Now, we have very good benefits and holidays, vacation, and sick time. When it comes to benefits, I really love it.

Tell me about a typical work day.
Well, I keep myself busy. I live in Vallejo, so I wake up at 3:30 a.m., and get to my other job at FoodMaxx in Oakland at 5 a.m. I work at the stores until 2 p.m., and then get to the school at 3 p.m. I work at MDUSD from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. I’m used to it now, so the days go by very fast.

How did you learn about the Teamsters?
A lot of us were frustrated at MDUSD. Frustrated with the benefits we had and with the lack of respect from management. I was working at FoodMaxx, and most of our truck drivers there are Teamsters. They told me about the Teamsters, and what a good a union they are. They said they work together and there’s unity. We needed that.

What did you do next?
I called Rudy Gonzalez (Local 856 Vice President & Organizing Coordinator). Then I talked as much as I could to all the members. I went around the District and laid out to them what they were getting and how we were being treated. We weren’t getting much of a raise and we had to pay a lot for our health benefits. It got people to feel that we weren’t going anywhere. I told them about the drivers and how they felt about Teamsters. In the end, more than 90% voted for Teamsters 856.

Have you seen changes since you and your coworkers became Teamsters
There’s a lot of issues that we’ve already fixed with the help of Juan Escobar (Local 856 Rep), Peter Finn (Local 856 Secretary-Treasurer/Principal Officer), and Rudy. Negotiations for our next contract will begin in a few months, and we are ready to tackle more of the issues workers face every day.

How long have you been a shop steward?
I’ve been an active shop steward in the custodial department since we became Teamsters about four years ago. Actually, my wife, Leni, is very active in our union too. Anywhere I go, if there are activities — a blitz, door-to-door visits for politicians — she’s always with me. She believes in what I’m doing and always supports me. She knows Teamsters 856 is the best union we’ve ever had.

What’s it like to be a shop steward?
It’s really very, very challenging, because you cannot please everyone. But my passion is helping people. So, while it is hard to please everybody, I stay positive and I have a goal about how we will handle everything. Being a steward has really helped me learn about the rights of workers and how to deal with management. And as a Teamster, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a stronger steward.

Are you proud to be a Teamster?
I feel very happy and blessed to be a Teamster, because since we became Local 856 members, our union has grown a lot. We had 7,000 to 8,000 members, and now we’re at over 12,000. If you believe in what Teamsters are doing, then you know strength in numbers will increase power and improve dignity for workers.

What advice do you have for your fellow members?
My advice is that any abusive action from management or any unfair treatment from them, you need to call your shop steward. Some people keep quiet and are afraid that management will pick on them, but we have rights.