Story by Eric Wolfe, Photos by John Storey
When a San Francisco Muni vehicle is damaged in an accident, it is shrink-wrapped in plastic, loaded onto a flatbed truck, and taken to the doctor.
OK, maybe not a real doctor. But the IBEW 1245 members working for AnsaldoBreda Inc. in Pittsburg, CA are the experts who know how to get Muni’s light rail vehicles back on track.
“I test all the systems, verify the proper functions of the train, and when it doesn’t function we find the problem and fix it,” said Tracy Cheek, a seven-year employee at AnsaldoBreda.
Like many of his co-workers, Cheek welcomed the decision three years ago to be represented by IBEW 2131, and has no problem with the IBEW’s decision last year to merge Local 2131 into Local 1245.
“I know the union is to protect the rights of the workers and make sure they are not beat up on by the employer. To me, it’s a good thing,” said Cheek, who had never been represented by a union before. “When the union took over this place I got a substantial raise.”
Like any manufacturing facility, work can ebb and flow at AnsaldoBreda’s Pittsburg plant. The place was hopping in the mid-1990s when the company built San Francisco’s fleet of electric light rail vehicles. A contract to give those cars a mid-life overhaul, starting in 2009, brought additional work, as did a contract to build vehicles for the Los Angeles transit system.
At the moment, though, it’s a small workforce—about a dozen IBEW members and a similar number of temps, working in a spacious 27,000 square-foot facility.
“I think with the amount of guys we have, we do a good job. Everybody’s doing their part,” said Sammy Bradley, the plant’s shop steward who oversees the warehouse and helps out wherever he is needed.
“We have a backbone”
Like Cheek, the IBEW is Bradley’s first experience with a union. It made sense to him to have representation.
“I heard about unions growing up. I already knew the union was pro for the workers,” said Bradley. “We get a raise every year. They can’t lay us off just for any reason.” With a union, he said, “We have a backbone.”
Naturally the guys would like to see work pick up. And fortunately, it’s about to.
AnsaldoBreda recently won a contract to manufacture driverless electric light rail vehicles for the Honolulu public transportation system. That work will be done at this Pittsburg facility. So would any future work the company hopes to pick up from the Los Angeles system, according to AnsaldoBreda HR Director James Core.
The company has also been awarded a contract for work in Florida, but that work will be performed in the Miami area. AnsaldoBreda has also performed work for transit systems in Atlanta, Boston and Cleveland, but the Pittsburg facility is the only one where workers have union representation.
The company’s roots go back to the founding of Gio. Ansaldo & C. in Genoa in 1853, before the creation of the modern state of Italy. The company manufactured steam locomotives and rail rolling stock, according to Wikipedia.
In 1886, Ernesto Breda founded Ing. Ernesto Breda and C. A merger of their descendent companies produced AnsaldoBreda, a part of the Finmeccanica group, in 2001.
The Pittsburg facility, according to Core, was built it the 1940s to manufacture tanks, but it has been used for constructing and servicing light rail vehicles for decades. Under the current contract with San Francisco Muni, the workers are servicing the trucks, the doors and the steps.
“What makes us most proud,” said Cole, “is when we see a Breda vehicle in revenue service, operating effectively and being used for the good of the community.”
Cheek and Bradley and the other IBEW 1245 members at the plant know their work is what makes that pride possible.
“Sometimes I say, ‘Come on guys, the City of San Francisco depends on us!’ I’m just joking, but I’m proud of it,” said Bradley. “When I go to San Francisco and see those vehicles I think, ‘I work on that, I’m proud of it.’ ”