Nine years ago, when the City of Vallejo filed for municipal bankruptcy, it was the City’s workers who bore the brunt of the pain. Vallejo administrators imposed draconian furloughs and takeaways that left the workers and their families reeling.
At that time, IBEW Local 2376 represented more than 200 workers at the City, but after the bankruptcy, the union was essentially powerless to stop the severe wage reductions and devastating concessions that dragged on for the better part of a decade. The cuts took their toll on the union too, and in late 2015, the members of Local 2376 decided that the best way for them to regain some power would be to merge together with Local 1245.
Our union welcomed the Vallejo brothers and sisters with open arms, and immediately began negotiating a successor agreement for them. The process was contentious and the City at times failed to engage in good faith bargaining, prompting Local 1245 to file an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the City (which was ultimately withdrawn after the dispute was settled in the workers’ favor). After a total of 25 bargaining sessions over nearly 12 months, an agreement was reached, and earlier this year, the Vallejo members received their first general wage increase in nine years.
The relationship between the union and the City remains tenuous,** but Local 1245 is continuing to work towards smoother relations between the union and the employer. There’s no question that the workers have renewed faith in the fact that their union is fighting for them, and they continue to work day in and day out to restore Vallejo to the beautiful, vibrant and charming city they know it to be.
All about the water
The Utility Reporter caught up with a handful of Vallejo city members as they worked to maintain and repair the bayfront city.
“Today, we’re here replacing a three-quarter-inch plastic service that was leaking and going into an AT&T vault,” explained Local 1245 member James Grandrath, who works in the Water Department. “We dig it out, expose it, replace the line, backhoe it, use our contemporary asphalt to cover it back up, and turn it over to the street department.”
This sort of work is extremely commonplace for Grandrath and his team, as many of the plastic pipes have degraded over the years and are in need of replacement.
“The plastic is 20 or 30 years old. It gets brittle, and if the ground shifts a little bit, it cracks and starts leaking,” said Grandrath. “There have been areas in Glen Cove where we had five or six crews in one day taking out as many as we could, for a month straight.”
The pipes arent the only water component in need of maintenance. The pump stations require regular upkeep and repairs as well. Senior Utility Mechanic John Palesi explained a project he was working on at the Columbus Parkway pump station, which serves approximately 80,000 customers in Vallejo.
“We’re bolting up a new check valve to a new swing check assembly for a retrofit of the pump station, to prevent water from backflowing in the wrong direction when the pumps are turned off,” said Palesi.
Palesi and his team are responsible for the drinking water of so many people, so they must take extra precautions to ensure its quality and potability.
“Everything we do has to be NSF 61 certified, which means it can be used in food service… and all our hardware is 316 stainless for corrosion protection,” he explained.
The marina scene
The drinking water isn’t the only water that matters to Vallejo residents. The waterfront is one of the great sources of pride for the city.
At the beautiful and scenic Marina, Admin Clerk Kimberley Lindo manages all of the day-to-day office work for berthing and rental spaces for local boaters. But the Marina is more than just boat parking. There are also spaces for “live-aboard” houseboats, which makes the Marina a unique sort of residential community.
“We have 36 spots for live-aboards here; the longest time we’ve had one live-aboard has been 26 years,” Lindo explained. “We have three generations of live-aboards here right now – we have the grandfather, who used to be the harbormaster, and his daughter lives here with her daughter as well.”
“Just another day at work”
Local 1245 also represents a small group of maintenance workers employed by the Greater Vallejo Recreation District (GVRD), which is a separate employer from the City itself. The workers keep up the local parks and support they various recreational programs that GVRD offers for Vallejo residents. Recently, GVRD was faced with the possibility of losing the majority of its revenue, so Local 1245 lent its support and succeeded and getting its funding renewed (see “GVRD members thank Local 1245 for support on Measure K“).
The Utility Reporter found GVRD maintenance worker Gilbert Marquez at Lake Dolwood park, where he was cleaning up some trees that had been damaged by strong winds.
“This branch that came down was a safety hazard for the citizens, and we try to keep them safe,” said Marquez. “Just another day at work. I like [this job], I like being outdoors.”
“They take care of us”
The Vallejo workers had nothing but positive things to say about the union, and seem very appreciative that they now have Local 1245 supporting them at work.
“I think the union’s great. It helps us get good benefits, and if we have problems on the job, they’ve got our back,” said Marquez. “They take care of us.”
“I like the fact that we actually have representation now,” said Grandrath. “I haven’t had any personal experience with  yet, but from what I’ve seen with those who need the help, the union’s been there for them, whereas before, there was not much of anything.”
“Every time I call [the union] they’re always friendly and helpful, and the get right back to me,” said Lindo. “I know that they are here for me.”
“They’ve done a lot for us in the recent past, and they’re doing a lot for us growing into the future,” said Palesi. “We’ve seen a lot of positive changes to help the workers out.”
**Due to stringent City of Vallejo policies, the Utility Reporter was disallowed access to most work locations and employees, with the exception of those who work out on public property. We regret that we are unable to portray the great number of departments where most of our members work, including Code Enforcement, Housing, Water Treatment, Emergency Response, Fire Inspection, Traffic, Streets, Landscaping, Engineering, Fleet Maintenance, Building Maintenance, Warehousing, Administration and Finance.
When it comes to the City’s Water supply, the work doesn’t just happen in the streets and stations. Water Plant Operators, Operators-in-Training, Laboratory Technicians, Utility Mechanics, Engineering Technicians, and Clerical personnel work together to operate and maintain modern water treatment facilities including the Fleming Hill Treatment Plant, Green Valley Treatment Plant and the Travis Treatment Plant, located on Travis Air Force Base, as well as many remote pump stations and equipment locations throughout the service territory.
Local 1245 members also provide critical services for the Vallejo Police Department, where they work as Police Clerks, Police Assistants and Evidence Techs. Additionally, Local 1245 Communications Operators operate the dispatching system for police and fire personnel, faithfully, and sometimes under very stressful situations, around the clock every day of the year.
The Utility Reporter regrets that we are unable to share more of what our members in Vallejo do to help the City succeed, and we hope the City will change its policy in the future to allow more access to the union members that make Vallejo great.
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director
Photos by John Storey
JV Macor contributed to this article.