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California Love: Local 2010 Brings Teamster Organizing to Higher Ed

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Photo: Members of the Teamsters Local 2010 Skilled Trades Contract Negotiating Committee at UC Davis

When the Supreme Court handed down Janus V. AFSCME three years ago, many predicted that it would be a blow that the labor movement would never recover from. At the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU), Local 2010 is proving that nothing could be further from the truth.

“We’ve increased our density dramatically over the past few years, organizing nearly 4,000 new workers into the Teamsters, including 1,300 during the pandemic,” said Jason Rabinowitz, Teamsters Public Services Division Director and Secretary-Treasurer of Local 2010. “We’re going to keep that momentum going, organize thousands more, and use our increased power to win real improvements in pay and working conditions for UC and CSU workers.”

The avalanche of organizing victories that Local 2010 has had illustrates that by implementing a multi-faceted approach to expanding membership, unions can do incredible things.

War of Accretion

Union elections at public colleges and universities in California are regulated by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) and administered by the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB). Under HEERA, there are several ways these workers can unionize. One is to file a petition for recognition based on a showing that a majority of workers authorize Teamsters representation, which the PERB verifies and then certifies. After a 15-day period where another union can petition for the unit, the workers are granted representation. The other is through a process called accretion.

“The accretion process is where we file a petition with the board that says these workers are misclassified; they should be in our existing bargaining unit because the work that they’re doing is similar to the work that is being done by existing members and there is a community of interest there,” Rabinowitz said. “We utilize this process together with our campaign of organizing the workers. That way, when we win recognition, we already have strong support and we are ready to fight for and win a good contract.”

Using the accretion process, Local 2010 won the right to represent over 1,000 workers at UC who are working under the classification of Administrative Officer 2s (A02s). Upon recognition, they immediately received the wages and benefits under the CX Contract, a collective bargaining agreement for UC clerical and allied service workers.

Melody Walz worked in the Cardiology Department at UC San Francisco (UCSF). She testified in favor of A02s joining Local 2010 at a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

“I just was disappointed to know that the AO2s weren’t a part of the union, and I think that’s really important, especially working for a university institution,” Walz said. “I thought about it—you know, what is going to be in our interest, and what’s best for me and my future? So, I decided to participate.”

Joining the union couldn’t have come at a better time. Last August, she got a layoff notice.

“I contacted my Teamsters representative,” Walz said. “She immediately jumped on top of it and a couple of weeks later I got an email saying the layoff was rescinded. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what I would do because I would have been laid off. I really appreciate all of their help and I’m really happy and excited to be a part of the union.”

“I feel so much better and confident knowing that the Teamsters have my back in case anything goes down,” said Marissa Lee-Baird, another A02 at UCSF. “The reassurance of being represented by a strong, diverse organization that has the power to represent my best interests is everything during these turbulent times.”

Getting It Made in the Skilled Trades

In addition to winning by accretion, Local 2010 is also signing up workers the traditional way. One of their most notable victories came at UC Davis, when 300 skilled trades workers – the final remaining group of in the entire UC system without union representation – voted to join Local 2010.

Ryan Burgess is a high voltage electrician who has worked at UC Davis for six years. He currently serves as a shop steward and a member of the negotiating committee as the workers bargain their first contract.

“We decided to organize with the Teamsters for a fair wage for the work being performed and to be treated with respect,” Burgess said. “Even though we’re still negotiating our first contract, we’ve seen some changes already. I’ve seen situations where something was happening that needed to be addressed; it got repaired or fixed before it went to where it used to go – someone getting written up, or even fired. The biggest change is getting people to come together for the betterment of the worker.”

Andre Cooks has been a utility operator at UC Davis for over five years. He was previously chief shop steward for Local 896 when he worked at a Budweiser plant, so he knows the benefits of a union contract first hand.

“I know all of the good that they’ve done me in the past,” Cooks said. “One thing we focused on was showing people what everyone else had, since we were the only campus that was unrepresented. We were able to say, ‘This is what UC Santa Barbara got. This is what UCLA got. This is what UCSD got. We deserve the same thing. We’re doing the same job that they are.’ Once we got out and showed people the numbers, they were more likely to come on board.”

Russell Billian-Ewing is a ventilation mechanic who has worked at the medical center for 16 years. He was one of the key members of the organizing committee during the effort to bring Local 2010 to UC Davis, and said the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced all of the reasons he wanted to join the union.

“We wanted to be treated as equals with the university because we’re putting ourselves on the line, especially with the COVID-19 outbreak, the infectious diseases we have at the hospital,” Billian-Ewing said. “We’re a financial investment, and our employers need to understand that. It’s important for them to know that we’re part of the front lines. Even if you don’t see us every day, we’re the ones making this place go.”  

As more and more UC workers come together to exercise their collective power, Local 2010 will be there to help them along the way.

“I understand human nature as far as fearing the threat of retaliation or being treated differently,” Billian-Ewing said. “For me, I was the same way. I was never that comfortable sticking my hand up and making a ripple in the water, but when I did it, it was very freeing. It was very empowering. For other people who work at UC, they will feel the same thing when they have that group of people who feel the same way. I got your back, you cover mine.”

Jabbing on the Job 

It’s not just organizing that Local 2010 has excelled at. They’ve led the way on getting frontline workers vaccinated.

California State University (CSU) Skilled Trades Teamsters have stepped up to play a critical role in setting up large COVID-19 vaccination sites in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Throughout the Golden State, Local 2010 members have been working hard to perform the essential services that are keeping CSU running through the pandemic and are on their way to some sense of normalcy.

To ensure all members are vaccinated, Rabinowitz sent a letter to CSU administration asking them to provide paid time off work to receive the vaccine and to allow those with vaccine sites on-campus to receive their shots there.

“Needless to say, time is of the essence, as our members are working every day on the campuses, and it is imperative that we give every worker the opportunity to receive the vaccine as soon as possible,” Rabinowitz wrote.

In the letter, Rabinowitz also demanded that CSU and UC work with Local 2010 to ensure that workers’ rights and interests are protected.

For Dennis Sotomayor, a lead steward at Local 2010 and Cal State Los Angeles (CSULA) facilities maintenance mechanic, his work has always been about public safety. Since the vaccine rollout began, he has been tasked with coordinating logistics for Cal State Public Safety to help support the FEMA vaccination site.

“If they (FEMA) need anything moved liked signage, they need power somewhere, access to a different area, or anything else related to the site, they send a work request to facilities and we get it done,” Sotomayor said. “It’s very exciting to be a part of this, especially as a Teamster, because—hopefully—this will never happen again.”

Sotomayor said he and his CSU skilled trades co-workers have helped with set-up and provided ongoing support, as they would for any other use of the CSU facilities. While there are CSU campuses that are not providing vaccines on-site, Sotomayor said CSU Los Angeles has set-up mobile vaccine sites for staff and faculty, who may obtain their vaccines on paid work time.

Rabinowitz, along with Sotomayor and lead locksmith Paul Butler, have also been on hand to observe and ensure that vaccinations are being distributed effectively and efficiently. Butler, who is also a member of Local 2010, works on the public safety side at CSULA and provides assistance with access, keycards and campus police support for the site.

“CSU skilled trades Teamsters have been on campus, providing critical skilled work throughout the pandemic,” Rabinowitz said. “Those who want to receive a vaccine should be able to receive one right away now that they are eligible. And they should be able to receive it on paid time, on campus, if possible. These Teamsters have been behind-the-scenes heroes since day one of COVID-19.”