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A Long, Hard-Earned Victory for Bay Area Community College Workers

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By Jashua Bane Worth the Fight
Contra Costa Community College District workers, members of Public Employees Union/AFSCME Local 1, celebrate historic gains in their new, two-year agreement. (Photos courtesy of Public Employees Union/AFSCME Local 1)
Contra Costa Community College District workers, members of Public Employees Union/AFSCME Local 1, celebrate historic gains in their new, two-year agreement. (Photos courtesy of Public Employees Union/AFSCME Local 1)

In a first-of-a-kind victory, the custodians, specialists, coordinators, maintenance workers, police officers and support staff of the Bay Area’s Contra Costa Community College District received a higher wage increase than faculty and managers, earning some long overdue recognition after an arduous eight months of negotiations.

It was the first time that the folks who keep Contra Costa’s facilities and campuses thriving saw greater gains than faculty, a testimony to the vital role they play.

The new, two-year agreement for members of Public Employees Union/AFSCME Local 1 was achieved because Contra Costa workers banded together to fight for much-needed improvements to their contract. They won a 3 percent salary increase, improved language to present at new employee orientations, a path for salary increases for the most senior workers, an $1,100 bonus for all workers.

“Together, we advanced the top three concerns of our members: increasing salaries, preventing increases in benefits, and focusing on longevity pay,” said Jeanie Smith, a senior computer and network specialist. “Together, we stood up, we stood strong together, and we persevered.”

“Local 1 had been overlooked for years,” said Local 1 President Neal Skapura, who noted that other bargaining units within the community college system saw consistent gains, while Local 1’s members had long been undervalued. “The combination of good ideas, clear communication and messages, and individual members engaging in the process,” were keys to the local’s success.

With a strategy that involved brown bag meetings centered on bargaining at each of Contra Costa’s three campuses, and a two-day blitz to turn out workers, members of Local 1 talked to more than 200 workers leading up to a critical board meeting. They turned out 65 workers who wore the local’s t-shirts and packed the board meeting, leading to unshakeable momentum and an approach for success that will be used in the future.

With a 93 percent “yes” vote to ratify the agreement, the members of Local 1 celebrated their historic gains.