On Thursday, August 24, PG&E’s Revenue Assurance Representatives voted to join Local 1245 in a mail-in ballot election. The final result was 13 Yes to 4 No, with 17 out of 19 eligible voters participating.
This was the third organizing effort in recent years for this classification, which investigates discrepancies in energy consumption (such as electricity theft) throughout PG&E’s territory. Calary Blue, a veteran of past organizing campaigns, approached IBEW in January. She and a handful of her coworkers were as committed as ever, but the group recognized that it would need to approach things strategically in order to succeed this time around. It wouldn’t be enough to just sign authorization cards, file for an election, and have a vote – the history had to be taken into consideration, and the volunteer organizing committee (VOC) would have to be the driving force of their own campaign.
One pitfall of previous organizing efforts was the STIP – the annual bonus that PG&E A&T/management receive. The company had been sure to emphasize that bargaining unit members do not receive these, and some workers chose not to organize out of fear of losing this income. In consideration of this, serious efforts to organize didn’t begin until April, after the yearly STIPs had already been issued.
It was important to expand the VOC to include some new faces. Many Revenue Assurance Reps had not been around during previous campaigns, and while some had come from non-union jobs, others had been part of Local 1245’s bargaining unit. Their real-world union experience was, without question, essential to building support. Additionally, the concerns of those who had been around for previous organizing drives had to be taken into consideration. The VOC was sure to include previous No voters in the conversation.
“Two times I voted against joining the union. I felt that I was part of a team, had management perks. Then I see union employees getting regular raises,” explained Ross Tate, “[while] my compensation is at the will or mood of my supervisors.”
In addition to the unreliable pay increases, fear of having their work assigned to other employees, perceived retaliation for speaking up, and other hazards of being an “at will” employee cemented the group’s desire to organize. The company eventually found out, however, and they encouraged workers to remain non-union.
“The flexibility you now enjoy as a non-represented employee, such as flexible work schedules and hours, individual arrangements with your supervisor for time off, and working remotely would all be subject to negotiations,” the company stated in a letter to Revenue Assurance Reps. What the employees ultimately inferred from the letter and meetings was that flexibility for the company can mean uncertainty and job insecurity for the worker. The ability to negotiate was not discouraging— it was the whole point.
The group hopes to begin bargaining as soon as possible. Local 1245 has begun the process by making requests for information such as pay history and job descriptions; the next steps will be for the group to choose their negotiating committee and develop bargaining proposals. With this clear victory to prove their commitment, the Revenue Assurance Reps are confident they’ll find success as members of IBEW.
–Rick Thompson, IBEW International Lead Organizer