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Schooled in Unity

Mt. Diablo School District Workers Join Local 856

For 14 years, Noven Feria worked as a custodian in one of the largest school districts in California. And for 14 years he watched his health insurance costs skyrocket while wages stayed flat.

But despair has given way to hope as Feria joined 500 of his co-workers in the maintenance and operations unit throughout the school district to organize and win union representation with the Teamsters.

On March 7, Mount Diablo Unified School District workers in Concord, Calif. overwhelming chose to join Local 856 in San Bruno, Calif. by a more than two-to-one margin.

The Mount Diablo workers’ election to become Teamsters followed months of stalled contract negotiations as the district refused to address the issue of soaring health care costs.

“We drive children to school, prepare their meals, and make sure they have a clean, safe environment in which to learn,” Feria said. “We deserve to be able to take care of our families too and not have to choose between food and health care.”

“Joining the Teamsters means we can now focus on bringing much-needed change to Mount Diablo. We now have the representation that is necessary to win a fair contract,” said Deborah Brewer, a 25-year food service worker.

In addition to health care costs, another big issue for workers is overdue pay increases. The workers have gone for many years without a raise, making it harder and harder to keep up with the rapidly rising cost of insurance.

“The district’s decision to freeze health care costs at 2010 levels has had an alarming impact on these workers. Many have had to choose between buying groceries and having health care,” said Peter Finn, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 856. “It’s time for Mount Diablo to take care of the workers who take care of our children. We are committed and prepared to do whatever it takes to demand fairness at the bargaining table.”

As workers started building their campaign for change in August of last year, they realized that winning would require unity among the diverse array of trades represented within their group. So they turned to the Teamsters to get it done.

“We support the Teamsters because they brought us all together—all of the trades and work groups of different cultural backgrounds standing as one,” said David Tomason, a roofer tradesman who has worked at the district for 12 years. “We’re all in this together because that’s the only way to secure better pay and benefits with a strong contract.”

“As Teamsters we can work together to achieve a respectable contract. And most importantly, the Teamsters represent every member equally,” said Suzanne Molnar, a school bus driver.

The maintenance and operations unit at Mount Diablo includes school bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, network technicians, as well as plumbers, electricians, painters, carpenters, groundskeepers and other classifications working in the maintenance department. The workers have joined Concord city employees who are also represented by Local 856.

For Feria, who helped lead the organizing effort, the successful vote for the Teamsters signals a new beginning for him and his co-workers.

“It feels good to be a Teamster,” Feria said. “Now we have the power of a strong union that makes sure its members get what they deserve in a contract. The future looks brighter for us.”