San Francisco Nonprofit Workers Unite for Improved Conditions, Client Care
After a hard-fought 11-month campaign, direct care staff at Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco got the news they had been waiting for—they are officially Teamsters.
“I’m really excited to move forward with the Teamsters and have representation. We have gotten so much support already,” said Ashley Nims, a residential counselor.
Nims is among the 150 residential counselors and direct care staff who work with some of the most emotionally challenged children in the Bay Area. Staff work up to 16-hour days with no overtime, unaffordable health care options and wages that don’t keep up with the cost of living in one of the most expensive cities in the country.
In June 2014, workers at the nonprofit facility began the process of forming a union with Local 856 in San Bruno, Calif., in an effort to stem the agency’s notoriously high turnover rate and bring benefits and wages on par with comparable nonprofits in San Francisco. They were met with strong resistance. Edgewood, which receives much of its funding from public sources, mounted an aggressive anti-worker campaign. The center hired anti-union lawyers and held captive audience meetings. When workers started seeing improvements, they were smart enough to know that they’d be short-lived and were a result of the organizing effort.
Edgewood’s conduct in an October 2014 election resulted in a National Labor Relations Board investigation. Edgewood agreed to a settlement and the workers won a new election, voting to join the Teamsters in May.
“Our union will continue to stand with these workers and we look forward to negotiating a strong contract that brings dignity and respect to their work,” said Peter Finn, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 856.
Michael Shih has worked at Edgewood since 2009, and since then the residential counselor has witnessed a “parade of trusted adults marched through the door.”
Shih united with his co-workers to end the constant turnover of counselors who leave due to poor pay, no overtime and no transparency or say in their workplace.
“We have a far more optimistic outlook now. It was rewarding and a huge relief, even from day one, to enjoy the protections of having a union step in on unfair terminations,” Shih said.
“When line staff has a process to talk about working conditions free from fear of retaliation, clients benefit,” said Rudy Gonzales, Local 856 Vice President.
Many of the clients are children who come from foster care and have had multiple placements, and who need a steady and caring presence.
“I want to see an environment with the best outcome for the kids and my co-workers,” said Stephanie Lay, who also works at Edgewood. “The Teamsters bring a supportive, inclusive environment that cares about what is happening here.”