This story by Eric Wolfe appears in the September-October edition of Utility Reporter.
In a massive show of unity, over 2,300 Local 1245 members signed a petition against contracting out and two-tier wages as the union began negotiations with Pacific Gas & Electric for a new Clerical Agreement.
Setting up the banner with over 2,300 signatures of support for the Clerical Bargaining Committee are, from left, Jennifer Gray, Graciela Nunez, Lorenso Arciniega, Eileen Purcell and Tom Dalzell.
The vast majority of the signers were members in the PG&E Clerical bargaining unit, although a few hundred Physical members could not resist the temptation to show their support for the Clerical bargaining committee.
In opening proposals exchanged in June, management called for greater authority to take Clerical work away from IBEW members and farm it out to contractors. Management also proposed a two-tier wage scheme that would slash Clerical wages for new members by as much as 30%—in some cases driving wages so low that future IBEW Clerical members would be eligible for food stamps and welfare programs.
“It’s a divide and conquer tactic,” said Local 1245 Bargaining Committee member Graciela Nunez, a Service Representative at the Fresno Call Center. “Management wants us to throw future IBEW members under the bus, but we don’t accept the idea that this work is only worth poverty-level wages. It’s hard work, it’s skilled work, and we know it’s worth more.”
When bargaining opened on Sept. 8 at Weakley Hall in Vacaville, a huge banner displaying the 2,300 signatures hung on the wall directly behind the union negotiators. Like the thousands of stickers and posters distributed throughout the PG&E system by 126 IBEW worksite volunteers, the banner declared members’ opposition to contracting out and two-tier wages.
“We, the undersigned IBEW 1245 members, reject PG&E’s attacks on our job security and wage security,” the banner declared, “and we support our Clerical Bargaining Team as they go to the table in September 2010.”
The union’s bargaining proposal calls for preserving wage security and job security, including “fair and equitable wages” to help Clerical members support their families. The union also calls for improved work/life balance through alternative work schedules, vacation, and funeral leave, and stresses the importance of better training and opportunities for advancement.
Don’t Jerk a Clerk
PG&E defended its proposals over the summer in a series of brown bag lunches and conference calls with Clerical employees throughout the company. In some cases arguing that employees “don’t understand” the company’s proposals, management defended contracting out and two-tier wages. But those meetings did not always follow the company’s script.
Sporting “No Two-Tier” stickers at the San Jose Call Center are, from left: Bessie Duterte, Admin Support; Lupe Belmontez, Service Rep. I; and kathy Calderon, Admin Support. Photo by Lorenso Arciniega.
In San Jose, union members arrived at the captive audience meeting wearing stickers reading “We Understand the Company’s Proposal” and “Don’t Jerk a Clerk,” according to Local 1245 Bargaining Committee member Lorenso Arciniega. When the company raised the issue of two-tier wages, union members pointed out that the company’s proposals threaten job and wage security, and undermine 58 years of constructive collective bargaining between PG&E and IBEW.
Members also pointed out that the wages proposed by the company would cut wages by as much as 30% for a group that has already been battered by historical wage discrimination. The Clerical bargaining unit is 74% women and 59% persons of color.
Although this is the first time in decades that Clerical negotiations have been conducted separately from Physical negotiations, many members of the Physical bargaining unit are paying close attention.
“Everything is a precedent for what follows, and Benefits bargaining and Physical negotiations are right around the corner,” said Shane Kayser, a lineman out of San Carlos. “When it comes to bargaining you’ve got to stand together. If the company does it to Clerical, they’re going to do it to us next.”
Women’s and community groups have shown interest in the PG&E negotiations because so many members of the Clerical bargaining unit are women and minorities. Local 1245 in August was invited to participate in the public comments session of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, and was also invited to participate in the Commission’s roundtable forum on gender equity principles.
Business Manager Tom Dalzell, who is personally leading the Clerical negotiations, said the union would have little interest in discussing management’s other proposals as long as contracting out and two-tier wage proposals were on the table.
“We’ve spent nearly six decades working to achieve a better standard of living for our Clerical members and we’re not interested in just throwing all of that away,” Dalzell said.
When bargaining commenced on Sept. 8, the union and company agreed that the first issues they would address will be wages and PG&E’s two-tier wage and contracting proposals.
Negotiations are scheduled for two days a week with the goal of achieving a tentative agreement (also known as a table agreement) by the end of October. Any such agreement would be explained in depth to members during November, with a mail ratification ballot to be conducted before the end of the year. The current Clerical agreement expires Dec. 31, 2010.
Updates on negotiations will be posted weekly on the Local 1245 website. Although some information will appear in the IBEW section of the PG&E Intranet, members are encouraged to check the union’s Internet site— //www.ibew1245.com/ —for the quickest and most complete updates.
A petition voicing the support of 2,300 members formed the backdrop for negotiations when Clerical bargaining began with PG&E management on Sept. 8, 2010. Sering on the union committee, from left: Cecelia De La Torres, Adrianne Franks, Donna Ambeau, Business Reps. Arlene Edwards and Debbie Mazzanti, Business Manager Tom Dalzell, Senior Assistant Business Manager Dorothy Fortier, Loresno Arciniega, Jennifer Gray, and Tim Ramirez. Committee members present, but not in the photo: Anna Bayless-Martinez, Graciela Nunez and Organizer Eileen Purcell.