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Strong Relationships, Member Solidarity Net Strong Contract in Northern CA

Photo Credit: aydinmutlu / Getty
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By Martin Ricard, AFSCME Council 57 Worth the Fight Workers' Rights

Workers at the East Bay Municipal Utility District in northern California have won a new contract that guarantees them pay raises and preserves their health care benefits – a testament to what public service workers can accomplish when they join together under a union.

The contract also includes an increase in the public transit subsidy and other workplace benefits.

The contract, which took effect which took effect retroactively dating back to April 2017, benefits about 1,400 workers in Oakland, California, who are covered by two locals.

Workers received a 4 percent raise in the first year, retroactive to April of last year, as well as a cost-of-living increase plus 0.5 percent over the next three years. In both units, 75 percent of the membership ratified the new agreement in March, with 96 percent overwhelmingly voting yes.

Management agreed to continue making 100 percent contributions to members’ and their families’ health coverage if they chose Kaiser Permanente as their insurer. For other plans, the district agreed to pay 100 percent of employee-only health care coverage and 85 percent for spouses and other family members.

 “Getting a new contract was extremely important because our contract had expired, and our members count on that raise every four years,” said John Briceno, president of Local 444, which represents wastewater plant operators, concrete finishers, gardeners, janitors and other workers. “We had some challenges at the beginning of negotiations. But we handled it as a team and the members stuck by me, and we were able to secure a really good contract.”

Mark Foley, president of Local 2019, which represents such workers as engineers, administrative clerks, customer service representatives and software engineers, said: “Our success at the bargaining table reflects the tremendous value that our brothers and sisters provide to East Bay MUD, making it one of the most respected utilities in the world.”

Though East Bay MUD workers have negotiated favorable contracts in the past, they didn’t take any chances this time around. The locals focused on building relationships with each East Day MUD board member, Briceno said.

 “You’ve got to be involved in politics because politics will take an interest in you whether you’re involved or not,” Briceno said.

Another factor that helped was the fact that members were visible in their AFSCME green T-shirts during board meetings and at the workplace on days when negotiations were taking place.

“Achieving a four-year contract that delivers cost-of-living improvements, in addition to annual raises, in each year without any significant takeaways or changes to our health care coverage is a testament to the strength of our members,” Foley said.

The new contract also helps boost pensions for recent hires. Due to a change in state law, workers hired after January 1, 2013, work under a lower pension formula. The workers negotiated an improvement in the current 20-year longevity pay that applies only to workers hired after 2013. It also includes increases in subsidies for public transit and for buying hearing aids and safety shoes, and contains equity adjustments for members in several job classifications.